The Changing Face of Gun Control: More Respectful of Gun Rights, But More Successful?


Molly Ball at the Atlantic chronicles one of the greatest triumphs of the gun rights movement: making the gun control movement ameliorate (or camouflage?) its anti-gun agenda. She notes:

Gun Control on Trial: Inside the Supreme Court Battle Over the Second Amendment

The group now known as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence was once known as Handgun Control Inc.; a 2001 book by the executive director of the Violence Policy Center was entitled Every Handgun Is Aimed at You: The Case for Banning Handguns.

Contrast that with what you see today: Gun-control groups don't even use the term "gun control," with its big-government implications, favoring "preventing gun violence" instead. Democratic politicians preface every appeal for reform with a paean to the rights enshrined in the Second Amendment and bend over backwards to assure "law-abiding gun owners" they mean them no ill will. Even the president, a Chicago liberal who once derided rural voters' tendency to "cling to guns or religion," seeks to assure gun enthusiasts he's one of them by citing a heretofore-unknown enthusiasm for skeet shooting…

Many Americans' low opinion of old school gun control advocates was earned:

If the NRA today seems fixated on the notion that the left is out to undercut the Second Amendment, confiscate law-abiding Americans' legally acquired firearms, and instigate federal-government monitoring of all gun owners, that's because 15 years ago, gun-control advocates wanted to do all of those things.

After chronicling some of the ins and outs of intra-anti-gun-group squabbles, and noting that one of their rhetorical tactics is acting all respectful of gun rights, as long as it's for hunting (leaving vulnerable self-defense, the most important aspect of gun ownership, and sheer recreational fun of any sort, the answer to the annoying "Why would any one need…..?" question about any sort of gun or magazine), Ball concludes that in trying to make themselves less scary to those who don't want all private ownership of guns eliminated or made terribly inconvenient, the gun control folk have a better chance of succeeding in regulatory goals that don't involve prying all guns out of people's hands, of whatever temperature or sentience:

The Brady Campaign's president, Dan Gross, [said] "The message is now turned outward instead of inward, focused on engaging and mobilizing the latent majority of the American public that supports common-sense measures like universal background checks." Now, a representative email from a Colorado progressive group to its supporters is headlined, "No one is coming to take your gun."

When I was researching my 2008 book Gun Control on Trial, right after the Heller decision came down, enshrining an individual Second Amendment right to commonly used weapons for self-defense in the home in the "living Constitution" the Courts would actually respect, Dennis Henigan of the Brady Center told me he considered the decision quite a victory for gun controllers.

Why, when his side filed an amicus brief arguing the other side of the case? The gun rights movement, he said, was pretty much running on the fumes of fear of total weapon confiscation. With that off the table thanks to the Court, they could now get down to fights he was sure the gun controllers could win, about the specifics of what sort of people could own what sort of weapon, what they had to tell the government when weapons changed hands, and the particular characteristics of weapons.

I thought he was just trying to put the best available spin on a bad decision for his side, but Ball's article is trying to make the case that a gun control movement that recognizes at least the minimal Heller level version of the Second Amendment will be a more successful one.

But I'm not sure how successful. Shortly before Sandy Hook, an article by me called "Gun Control RIP" appeared in American Conservative, and many correspondents seemed to think I was embarrassed by crummy timing and clearly wrong.

I still think the point the piece made holds, and that American public resistance to reacting even to tragedies caused by people with guns with enough political fervor to turn the gears of gun control forward is still strong. Now it seems even attempts to turn the hands back a decade to something like the "assault weapon" status quo of ten years ago–not exactly an amazing victory of gun control–are likely to fizzle