I’m old enough to have been around when Mothers Against Drunk Driving was founded on September 5, 1980. (Actually, I’m old enough to have been around for lots of things except The F/lood) I’m also aware of an historical point which might be of interest to current gun reform advocates. One of the issues faced by the organization as it sought to reduce the number of vehicular accidents caused by impaired drivers was how to differentiate between (1) legislation to control drinking and driving; and (2) measures to control alcohol consumption. [PSU.edu pdf] To exactly no one’s surprise, attempts to address the second issue faced opposition from the alcohol and “hospitality” sectors. When MADD sought to promote legislation to reduce the BAC to .08 the industries fought back saying these measures would unfairly punish “social drinkers.” Fast forward to the gun law reform issues.
Insert “law abiding gun owners” for “social drinkers” and we can see the problems faced by reformers taking on the NRA/gun manufacturers. In actuality there are multiple facets of the gun issue which present hurdles for reformers. However, there is much room for hope. For starters, the youngsters participating in Walk Outs, and who will presumably be the leaders in March For Our Lives, have already put a face on the problems.
Statistics are useful, but too often insufficient to move public sentiment — we know that on an average day in the United States of America 96 people will be killed by guns; that about 13,000 people per year will die by firearm; and, sadly each day an average of 7 children and teens will be killed by a gun. [ETres] Broadcasters have contributed by keeping the photographs of the deceased on air after mass shootings, but other victims of gunfire are relegated to the obituary pages, to be forgotten almost before the funeral services are completed. More silence comes as part of the reaction to the fact that 62% of gun deaths in this country are suicides. [ETres]
Further progress may hinge upon how reformers cope with the “social drinker” analogy. A social drinker is a social drinker until he gets behind the wheel of a 4,000 pound sedan and hits another human being causing injury or death. A law abiding gun owner is a person who owns firearms, until he pulls out the gun and shoots another human being — or beings.
For all the possible factors leading to an increase in public awareness of impaired driving, and a reduction of impaired driving from a 1973 rate of 36.1% to a 25.9% rate in 1986, [PSU.edu pdf] it isn’t too difficult to infer a correlation to MADD publicity and awareness campaigns, leading in turn to the enaction of stronger statutes to curb drunk driving in the 1980s. Similarly, continued publicity of gun violence should lead to consideration and eventual enaction of laws to reduce the lethality of gun incidents. What is needed is organizational structure to capture and extend the energy demonstrated by young people who are quite evidently fed up with being educated behind “secure” walls and being shot at — either in their schools or on their streets. There are several organizations already in place to accomplish this. [Everytown, the Brady Campaign, Moms Demand Action, Giffords.Org, Giffords Law Center, and an umbrella group Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.] Unlike the original MADD efforts, the organizational structures are already in place. This situation should present an advantage for gun law reform advocates.
One of the most impressive portions of the young people’s efforts is their focus on political action, specifically getting young people registered to vote. For those not yet eligible to vote, students are encouraging other students to write and call their governmental representatives. This activity is a proven way to get people involved and to keep them activated. Student action in concert with the existing organizations’ efforts presents a strong start for reform efforts.
The strong start doesn’t mean there aren’t significant obstacles to effective reforms. The first tactic of the NRA is nearly always a stall game. While the clichéd line “It’s too early to talk about this…” has been swatted down by the Parkland, FL students, that doesn’t mean there won’t be suggestions to “study the problem via the good offices of a commission.” Paralysis by analysis is a standard NRA tactic to avoid action.
The second tactic is diversion. It really isn’t Guns, it’s mental illness, it’s violent video games, it’s some elusive factor which is the “root cause.” The argument goes that if we don’t address the “root cause” then we will not really “solve the problem.” The problem is simply that too many people have access to entirely too much firepower, and some of these people kill other people.
The third prominent tactic is the snail paced regulatory and subsequent litigation route. For example, instead of outlawing the sale of bump stocks the White House has opted to advise departmental creation of rules under the rubric current Federal legislation. The development of rules is time consuming, and is often followed by even more time consuming litigation. This shirt-tail cousin of paralysis by analysis is an effective way for politicians to posture in support of gun regulation without actually doing anything.
The kids have it right: The only way to avoid paralysis by analysis, “root cause” distractions, and regulation/litigation is at the ballot box. Candidates for public offices can ignore, dismiss, or diminish their appeals, but will do so at their electoral peril.