I found this analysis by Richard M. Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City and a former president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (it was called Handgun Control, Inc. while Aborn was president) insightful:
Supporters of gun control tend to be broad-based progressives who also support education reform, reproductive choice, marriage equality and other issues. In a country with low voter turnout, the ability to form single-issue voting blocs is a powerful political tool. The NRA has succeeded in doing this; the gun-control movement has not.
But when Aborn tries to elaborate on why this is true I think he misses, perhaps deliberately, some important points. For example he claims:
The communication strategy of the National Rifle Association centers on the idea that passage of any gun-control measure is a step toward the elimination of all guns. Framing the issue this way foments an element necessary to sustaining a broad movement that votes: the personal interest of its members.
While there is some truth to this I think it is important to look at the symmetry issues. How could have the gun-control movement (GCM) framed the issue that would have achieved similar and sustaining interest in their members?
If the issue had been framed as, “All we want is some minor tweaks in the law” what kind of support would they receive from their target base? I think their base would think of them as cowards without vision and look somewhere else to donate their money and time. While it is very difficult to show cause and effect in this case I think it is interesting that declining support for Handgun Control Inc. is strongly correlated with their name change to The Brady Campaign.
Therefore it seems the only way for them to have framed the issue to get more support on their side was a ban on all or as many types of guns as they could. They could have, and there are indications they did, privately pitch their agenda as incrementalism with a ban being their ultimate goal. Sort of “We don’t want to ban all guns” .
Since framing the issue as a total ban is a motivator for the base of both sides why did the GCM shy away from that but the gun freedom movement (GFM) embraced it? From a merely logical/symmetric perspective shouldn’t it be just as damaging/beneficial to whichever side framed it in that manner? There may be more than one reasons why that is not true but the most obvious one to me is that the GFM has a much larger base than the GCM. Hence for every “unit of motivation” the GCM were to gain by framing the issue as a total ban they realized the GFM would have gained, perhaps, 10 units.
I believe this knowledge essentially forced the GCM to work “under the radar”. In order to motivate their base they had to tell them the ultimate goal was much further along the total ban scale than what they could publically admit to. This may have created a climate where habitual deceit became institutionalized. Before the “information age” and with the strong media support they got away with this and almost won. If the Internet had been another 10 years coming to fruition I think we would be looking at U.K like restrictions today instead of planning the end of days for the GCM. This culture of deceit is unlikely to ever be successful again. And without the deceit they are essentially powerless.
I agree with Aborn’s next point:
Virtually all of the long-term grass-roots political movements in U.S. history have centered on direct stakeholders with a sustainable, single-minded focus that determines not only how an individual votes but also provides a strong motivation to vote. Most supporters of the early suffragist movement, abortion rights, civil rights, gay marriage and even the NRA have had a direct stake in the outcomes of their issues.
In a country with low voter turnout, the ability to form single-issue voting blocs is a powerful political tool. The NRA has succeeded in doing this; the gun-control movement has not.
In his proposals to address this point he completely ignores what I believe to be an insurmountable obstacle. The problem for the GCM is they do not have an immediate and direct threat if they loose the battle. The GFM does. The GFM would lose their guns and in some cases their livelihoods (manufactures, people in the firearm distribution chain, ranges, trainers, hunting guides, etc.) if the GCM were to win. Because the consequences of the threat are so much higher is the reason the people in the GFM have a strong tendency to be single issue voters.
What I find most telling about Aborn’s analysis is that he almost totally ignores two other issues.
In regards to the constitutional issue. He only says:
In 2008, the Supreme Court established in District of Columbia v. Heller that individuals have the right to own guns — and that the possession of firearms is subject to reasonable regulations.
He does not elaborate on what the definition of “reasonable” might be. There are indications that strict scrutiny is going to be the end result and almost for certain the standard will be intermediate scrutiny or higher. The problem for the GCM is that none of the proposed “reasonable restrictions” can meet the intermediate scrutiny standard. To pass intermediate scrutiny the law “is substantially related to the achievement of important government objectives”. I take this to mean that the law has to actually be somewhat effective. Light restrictions such as requiring ID to buy ammunition are not going to achieve anything and heavy restrictions clearly run into constitutional barriers. An even stronger claim can be made that the GCM has trouble with achieving effectiveness with any of law at any time throughout history.
The other issue Aborn totally ignores. That issue is the benefits of gun ownership. This is a gaping hole in the all the battle plans the GCM’s have ever fielded. And the GFM has used this hole to defeat them. The GCM does not, and realistically they probably cannot, recognize that firearm ownership has benefits. The best they can do is vigorously assert there are no net benefits. As long as law enforcement officers carry firearms that assertion is going to ring very hollow.
Aborn concludes that the GCM can still succeed if they just do three things:
- Convince Americans there is violent crime problem,
- Forge an alliance with gun owners on “reasonable restrictions.”
- Win the gun control is effective in reducing “gun deaths” argument.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s the violent crime problem was a motivator for gun control. But now violent is a motivator for private ownership of firearms. Aborn is living in the past on this one.
The GFM is very skeptical of “reasonable restrictions.” The GCM has just been way too deceptive for far too many years to believe they can be trusted. Forging an alliance with the great deceivers is going to be a very hard task.
He, probably deliberately, used the false metric of “gun death”. All reasonable research on the effectiveness of gun control uses a net benefit standard rather deaths by gun which the GCM nearly always throw in suicide and justified homicide. And as soon as the proper standard is used they lose the argument.
My conclusion is that Aborn’s position is nearly hopeless. He has nearly insurmountable obstacles at almost every step. I suspect he is desperate and is trying to rally support for a cause he knows is nearly dead but has dedicated the last 20 years to. It must be incredibly depressing to devote your life to something then see it die. That can make a person do desperate things and to not see things clearly. I believe that has happened in this case.