Dear Gun Control Democrats:
It’s been less than a week since national gun control in America died. No “assault weapons” ban. No “high-capacity” magazine ban. Not even the Manchin-Toomey background check compromise that, according to Senator Mark Kirk, was reached by getting drunk on a 54-foot mega-yacht named Black Tie, which is part-owned by Manchin.
Over the last several days, I’ve watched Democratic politicians, lobbyists and Facebook meme-sharers calling down shame on the senators who voted against every single gun control measure proposed in the Senate. Yes, it’s true that none of the measures would have passed the Republican-controlled House anyway, but to have lost in the Democrat-controlled senate was to truly be trounced. I have seen the Democratic pundits all over the nation looking across their podiums and well-lit television studio desks with stunned expressions. “How could this have happened,” they all ask? Only four months after Newtown?
I write this letter as someone who is politically far left of center. You and I have a lot in common, though you may not want to admit it by the end of this article. I think it’s time we had a talk.
I live in the state of Virginia, a place where it’s not easy to be a leftist. Just last week, our State Board of Health voted to approve TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) regulations that would close most abortion clinics in the state. It was a devastating loss for myself and other organizers, and it will be even more devastating to the women of Virginia, most of whom will not have access to safe, legal abortions for years to come. I mention this not only so that you have context for the sort of political work I’m involved in, but because I want you to know that *I do know*, from very recent experience, what it’s like to feel powerless as you watch a group of people vote for social policy that you think is absolutely insane.
But I’ll be honest with you: I watched the Senate votes live on Wednesday, and when these gun-related bills were defeated, I literally celebrated. Obviously, you and I have a lot in common, but plenty to differ on. And that’s kind of what I want to talk to you about.
I’ve owned guns since childhood, and it’s an issue that I’ve thought and written a lot about. It’s very difficult for me to communicate with the mainstream Democratic establishment about guns. But because I know how painful it sometimes is to listen to Republican and other Right-leaning people talk about things that we on the Left care strongly about, I thought I would try to help you out.
There are are a few things that you can do to improve your game in the gun control debate, and I thought it would only be fair to point out what they are. So here’s my best shot. Here are the things that you MUST keep in mind if you wish to further the dialogue on gun policy in America.
1. Stop Sending Mixed Messages
I wish I had a dollar for every Democratic politician and commentator that has looked into a television camera over the past few months and said, “No one is trying to take your guns away!”
Allow me this humble suggestion: The best way to convince the American public that you’re not interested in taking guns away is to stop talking about taking guns away.
Firstly, when your politicians are asked, “Do you support state legislation to ban the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns?” as Obama was in his 1996 Senate campaign, you should never answer “Yes,” as Obama did. Publicly advocating a ban on all handguns is not the way to convince people that you’re not interested in banning guns. Furthermore, when you are campaigning for president, never say the phrase “I continue to support a [federal] ban on concealed carry,” as Obama did in 2004. This gives people the impression that your intention is to prevent the states from setting reasonable guidlelines on who can defend themselves outside of their home.
If you then win the election, do not go on to fully support gun bans in two US cities – Chicago and D.C. – in which law-abiding citizens are disarmed, citing them as models for gun policy while trying to convince the rest of the country that you really aren’t interested in banning their guns. (Guess which two US cities you’re most likely to be killed by a gun in.)
It has become almost cliché for smirking Democrats to attempt to ridicule people like myself by crooning, “Obama wants to take our guns!” in a stereotyped hillbilly drawl – something particularly offensive to some folks here in the south – when in fact, Obama has said exactly that.
Some of you will argue that regardless of the President’s conflicted/dishonest assertions, the legislation that died in Senate earlier this week had nothing to do with taking anything. But let us not forget the “assault weapons” ban, which enacted slow confiscation over a generation. I wouldn’t have to immediately surrender any firearms, but because of the angle of the grip on the shotgun I own, it would be a felony offense to pass it on to a family member (or anyone else) upon my death. It would instead be confiscated by the government and presumably destroyed.
The same would happen to tens of millions of firearms all over the country, including more than 3 million of just one single model, the AR-15. In this case, gun control advocates literally want to pry the most popular rifle in the country from every owner’s cold dead hands. “We’re not taking any guns away from you, just all future generations.” Needless to say, this is not the way to convince people that no one is interested in taking guns away.
This sort of message and legislation has come not just from the president, but on down the chain of command. We have known that the ideal scenario (and presumably ultimate goal) for Dianne Feinstein – sponsor of the assault weapons ban and most outspoken advocate for all of the defeated legislation – has always been a total, door-to-door confiscation of firearms. She told us so in a 60 Minutes interview.
”If I could have gotten 51 votes in the Senate of the United States for an outright ban, picking up every one of them – ‘Mr. and Mrs. America, turn ‘em all in!’ – I would have done it. I could not do that.”
But it’s not just the Democratic leadership. Cultural icons of the Left have also joined the fray. On Real Time with Bill Maher, the host wanted to know why Democratic leaders are pretending that they believe in the second amendment, when they ought to just come out and say what they mean:
“Everyone on the left is so afraid to say what should be said, which is the Second Amendment is bullshit. Why doesn’t anyone go at the core of it?”
Every episode of the show is watched by 1 – 1.5 million (almost entirely Democratic) viewers, and the studio audience cheered his comment. Chilling. The followup comment is that the ballot box is our guarantee of liberty. Ask Germany (and countless others) how that worked out for them.
It is important to note that according to the Supreme Court (and most Americans), the views espoused by Obama, Feinstein, Maher, et all are unconstitutional. Is it really so difficult to understand why some folks might think that Democrats are just being politicians by giving lip-service to the second amendment while pushing new legislation? Taken collectively, these and many other open confessions by party members are more than probable cause for suspicion of intent. Constitutional voters don’t have to be ignorant or fearful to sound the alarm about these people. They just have to take them at their word and actions.
You can either tell people that you’re not interested in taking guns and stop thinking of ways to take them, or try to abolish the second amendment (good luck). But you cannot do both.
2. You Have To Understand What You’re Regulating
This is common sense for any sort of regulation, but especially when you’re dealing with something specifically protected in the Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, it has not been the case.
New rule: If you don’t know how guns work, you don’t get to craft legislation about them. There is nothing so embarrassing as watching a Democratic politician who has never held a gun in their life attempt to talk about why and how they should be regulated.
This is not a new problem. I included this classic video in my article on the assault weapons ban, which shows how a senator doesn’t even understand what’s in her own legislation.
Added to the list over the past several months has been die-hard gun control advocate New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg not understanding the difference between automatic and semi-automatic firearms.
”Pistols are different. You have to pull the trigger each time. With an assault weapon you basically hold it down and it goes ::machine gun noise::”
This is a man that has built a cornerstone of his career on gun control legislation. He has headed and commissioned panels on guns. He runs a whole group of pro-gun-control mayors. This is an issue he has supposedly been devoted to for a long time.
He doesn’t know how guns operate. He doesn’t understand basic terminology. He doesn’t know what an “assault weapon” is, even though he supposedly was involved in drafting legislation. How is this possible? And how is it possible that we who actually understand the topic are supposed to cede to his judgment on it?
He’s not alone in his utter baffledness about this. Obama recently told donors at a Democratic Congressional Campaign committee meeting that students at Sandy Hook were gunned down by a “fully automatic weapon”. From the White House transcript:
”I just came from Denver, where the issue of gun violence is something that has haunted families for way too long, and it is possible for us to create common-sense gun safety measures that respect the traditions of gun ownership in this country and hunters and sportsmen, but also make sure that we don’t have another 20 children in a classroom gunned down by a semiautomatic weapon – by a fully automatic weapon in that case, sadly.”
This is the President of the United States, who has been personally touring the country pretending to understand the issue of how guns function in society. This person has had entire panels and committees at his disposal specifically to educate him on this topic (so we’re told). There is no excuse for ignorance of this magnitude to be centered around conversations involving civil rights specifically enshrined in the constitution. (It is either astounding ignorance or dishonesty. I’m being generous and assuming the former.)
But the award for atomic facepalm goes squarely to Democratic representative Dianne DeGette of Colorado. During one of the many public forums on gun control that took place across the country recently, Dianne explained to the panel and a stunned audience that magazines and ammunition were the same thing, and therefore all the “high-capacity” magazines would soon be used up.
This person is making laws about the very thing she is completely ignorant of. How can people who actually understand the issue be brought to the table and expect to have productive, meaningful conversation when the people sitting across from them are this clueless?
These are a few selected, higher-profile incidents that represent a vast culture of ignorance in the mainstream Democratic left when it comes to even the basics of gun use and policy. I shouldn’t have to say it, but: Until people know what they’re talking about, none of us should care what they have to say.
3. Stop Using Children
It was the dead children of Newtown that were intoned as the push for gun control legislation began. As I have just evidenced, it was the dead children intoned during the drumming up of support. And it was the dead children intoned in Obama’s “concession” speech as every gun control measure in the Senate failed.
And let’s not forget ads like this one:
Fortunately for America, the FBI says that citizens of all ages are literally more likely to be struck by lightning than to be killed with a rifle of any kind – not just “assault” rifles. In fact, you are more than twice as likely to be killed be hands and feet than rifles of any kind, and about 5 times more likely to be killed by a knife.
What about unintentional firearms deaths? Fortunately for children, the National Safety Council says that they are less likely to be accidentally killed by any firearm than most other causes of death. Children ages 0-19 (which technically includes two years of life that aren’t childhood) are about 8 times more likely to drown or be poisoned, 4 times as likely to be killed by smoke or fire and almost 50 times more likely to be killed in a car accident.
No wonder the Left’s alarmist warnings had no effect on the people of Newtown, who voted for the NRA’s suggestion to put armed guards in schools.
Aside from the fact that a statistically insignificant number of children die from firearms, not a single person who advocated these gun control measures has suggested a way in which any of the proposed legislation could possibly have prevented the massacre in Newtown. (None of it would have.) Which could make someone wonder, “What’s with all the talk about kids?”
Children are no longer just pawns in the gun control story. They are now integral players. Sometimes the stories play out like Obama’s photo-op above. Sometimes they were never supposed to be stories in the first place.
A father in Florida was furious recently when his fourth grade son brought home this colorful page:
The teacher seemed to gotten the idea of this little gem from Democratic Attorney General Eric Holder, who asked for all schools nationwide to advocate an “anti-gun message” every single day. “Every day, every school at every level… We need to do this every day of the week and really brainwash people into thinking about guns in a vastly different way.”
Such an anti-gun fever pitch has been reached that very young children are now being suspended and expelled from school for pointing fingers and saying “pow” on the playground, chewing a Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun, pretending a chicken nugget was a gun and shooting bubbles from a Hello Kitty bubble gun.
As I’m writing this, news has broken of a middle school student suspended and arrested for wearing an NRA t-shirt to school.
Recently a man’s house was raided after he posted a photo of his 11-year-old son – who had a hunting license – safely handling a .22 rifle. The father was a certified firearms instructor, an NRA range safety officer, and a New Jersey hunter education instructor. His house was raided without a warrant and the state threatened to take his children away.
04/23/13 Edit: I have been asked – reasonably, I think – not to refer what happened as a raid. A whole group of police and Dept. Children and Families officials showed up at Moore’s house, demanded to be let in to see his gun safe, threatened to take his child away, but did not enter without a warrant. Moore was told that by asking for a warrant he was acting suspiciously (specifically counter to a ruling by the Supreme Court – exercising rights is never cause for suspicion), and they threatened to find a way to get one. He told them they were welcome to do so. They ended up leaving.
How far we have come.
In some areas of the country, children are not props in a game of political football, but are giving testimony before their state legislatures about why new gun control measures are a terrible idea, like this 15-year-old who shoots those evil AR-15s every day.
In some areas of the country, children are given proper handling and safety training the way I was as a child, and are capable of safely handling rifles and “assault weapons” to defend their homes and family.
Most Americans know when they’re being emotionally played for political gain, and so do the senators who voted against the barrage of legislation that went down in flames this week. Until you can stop marching children around as your cause celeb for no apparent logical reason, and until you propose legislation that at least has something to do with protecting them, no one is going to listen.
4. Stop Pretending Background Checks Don’t Already Exist.
Yes, it’s true that 90% of Americans like background checks for firearms purchases. Well it’s a good thing we have them!
04/21/13 Edit: Four months after the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School, USA TODAY Poll finds backing for any new gun control legislation has slipped below 50%. The “90% approval for new background check legislation” has turned out to be very false indeed.
If you go to a sporting goods store and buy any firearm, you have to get a background check done. If you buy a gun from almost any table at a gun show, you have to have a background check. If you buy a gun across state lines on the internet, it has to go through a licensed FFL dealer who runs a background check. The same goes for Wal-Mart, flea market dealers, and everywhere else.
The “gun show loophole” you’ve heard so much about simply means that private individuals can sell a gun to each other without asking the federal government for permission. Which is to say that I don’t have to pay $150 (the cost for a check in D.C.) to ask the FBI whether a family member or friend to whom I would like to lend my shotgun for a hunting trip is a convicted felon.
Background checks are a relatively new priority for Obama’s Justice Department, which only prosecuted 44 of the 48,000 felons and fugitives that submitted background checks to purchase a firearm (and were denied because of the functioning system) in 2012. When the NRA pointed out this out to Biden, the Vice President explained that they “simply don’t have the time or manpower to prosecute everybody who lies on a form”.
Then how, pray tell, is adding to that number thousands of private transaction between individuals (who are already inherently law-abiding by filing the paperwork) going to help?
Aside from practicality and enforceability concerns, there are the ever-present privacy concerns. The Democratic left got a rude awakening from allies on this topic when the ACLU came out against universal background checks, citing the record keeping on law-abiding citizens as a “significant” privacy concern:
“We think that that kind of record-keeping requirement could result in keeping long-term detailed records of purchases and creation of a new government database.”
“And they come to use databases for all sorts of different purposes. For example, the National Counterterrorism Center recently gave itself the authority to collect all kinds of existing federal databases and performed terrorism related searches regarding those databases. They essentially exempted themselves from a lot of existing Privacy Act protections.”
The Deputy Director of the National Institute of Justice noted in a recent internal memo that the effectiveness of universal background checks would “require gun registration”. (It also went on to note that “gun buybacks are ineffective”, that a high-capacity magazine ban wouldn’t have any discernible effect, that “assault weapons are not a major contributor to gun crime”, and that even a complete elimination of all “assault” weapons “would not have a large impact on gun homicides”.)
When your own Department of Justice thinks your ideas are bad ones, it’s time to move on.
But the ACLU and Department of Justice are not alone in their rejection of universal background checks. Recently, the most comprehensive survey ever conducted on the views of 15,000 law enforcement professionals asked about the relationship between recently-dead legislation proposals and violent crime. 79.6% of them said that expanded background checks would do nothing to reduce violent crime. Here are three other questions and their responses:
These figures speak for themselves. When the nation’s police force, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Justice Department aren’t on board, you might want to rethink your strategy.
5. Treat the NRA As What They Are: Other American Citizens
The story from the media – and certainly from your Democratic leadership – is that the “powerful corporate lobby” of the NRA is so indomitable that they single-handedly bought and scared off politicians from supporting legislation that they actually believed was going to do some good. But aside from the questionable legislation, this narrative still falls short.
After gun control legislation was defeated this week, I opened a friend’s Facebook link to an unrelated article on thinkprogress.org, a popular leftist news and opinion site. The full screen poll that popped up before I could read the article asked: “DOES THE NRA CONTROL CONGRESS?” along with an urgent call to sign up for their mailing list to email-shame politicians.
The problem here is the complete dissociation of the NRA as an entity and its membership base. As someone who participated wholeheartedly in the Occupy movement and in the national campaign to expose ALEC – the group of Right-wing politicians and corporate lobbyists who write laws together – I have no love for the influence of money on politics. But by making this narrative the dominant one, the Democratic left has missed a very, very important fact: the power of the NRA lies not in corporations, but in its membership.
The NRA definitely receives some contributions from the firearms manufacturers whose interests are tied up with their own. Of course they do. That’s how lobbying works: you pay people to take the time to represent your interests well to lawmakers, whether you’re a gunmaker contributing to the NRA or a high school teacher’s union paying The American Federation of Teachers lobbyists.
What you’re missing is that the vast portion of the NRA’s funds come not through corporate donors, but through contributions from average Americans. It was not a coincidence that between December 2012 and January 2013 the NRA grew 10,000 members every day, adding a full quarter-million new contributors to their roster since gun control reappeared in the national discussion last year. That’s just what happens when a populace that cares a lot about something gets mobilized. But the NRA – by which the Democratic party should mean “the American citizens who comprise the NRA because they believe in gun rights” – has consistently been characterized as the heartless, monolithic boogeyman.
I have already mentioned the young man who was just this week suspended and arrested for wearing an NRA t-shirt to school. How is this possible? How can the demonization of 5 million Americans engaged in strictly legal activity literally put a child in jail in 2013?
I hope that one thing this latest loss has taught you is that you cannot advance the discussion on gun policy by treating the NRA as if they were something other than the citizens who intentionally pay for them to do exactly what they do. (Even if members do have to grit their teeth at brash methods sometimes.) Your opponent is not the corporate profits of Ruger or Beretta, it is the beliefs and ideas and the resulting money of other citizens just like yourself. Speaking of which…
6. Don’t Forget About Us!
Gun policy is not really as partisan a debate as mainstream media would suggest. There are plenty of left-leaning citizens and Democratic voters who love our guns. Some of us are in the south, some of us are out in Colorado, and some of us are right in the middle of New York City. Some of us not only like the process of shooting guns, but actually think that it’s important to know how. Some of us hunt to supplement food/income. Some of us believe that the safety of our selves, families, communities and yes, even our nation are our own responsibility as citizens. It’s not such a radical thought.
And don’t forget that we are the swing voices in this debate. After the mass shooting in Aurora, I posted an article on why the “assault weapons” ban should not be renewed. Much to my surprise, it garnered a half million reads. This was not because I’m a great writer. This was because it spoke to other leftist people with gun-interests in a way that an NRA newsletter was not going to. And those people shared it with their leftist friends, and so on.
You cannot pretend that we don’t exist, and you cannot be surprised when we let our representatives know that we do not support gun control legislation.