After the massacre at the Sandy Hook school, the president and much of America — including the great Jon Stewart — agree that it’s time to talk about gun violence.
But what good can talk do when Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who has an A rating from the NRA, is the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee? No piece of legislation that curbs the sales of any weapons or strengthens any background checks will ever get out of his committee as long as the NRA opposes it.
When Vice President Biden announced Wednesday that the president was considering executive orders to fight gun violence, the Drudge Report immediately posted the story with images of Hitler and Stalin, making the suggestion that the Holocaust would have been prevented if there were just MOAR GUNS. Gun rights supporters have their talking points down and they’ve already disrupted one Democratic congressman’s town hall meeting to voice them. It’s like the coordinated reaction to health care reform all over again.
But unlike much of the Tea Party movement, gun owners don’t have to be astroturfed. The four million members of the NRA are passionate and have been ginned up for years that someone is coming for their guns. And even though the only legislation being mentioned grandfathers existing weapons, that fear of confiscation is rampant — this thrills the gun industry, which only ends up selling more guns.
Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly have launched Americans for Responsible Solutions to balance the power of the NRA. The Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence — started by Ronald Reagan’s former press secretary Jim Brady, who was critically injured in assassination attempt on the former president, and his wife — have been terrifically successful at pushing for gun safety legislation, particularly when Mr. Reagan was alive to promote its efforts.
It will be two years before there will be any chance to change the makeup of Congress, and redistricting has made Republicans more afraid of losing to a more pro-gun opponent in a primary since they carried their districts in the general election by at least 6 percent. The only way to force some reasonable steps to fight gun violence is to reshape public opinion and fast.
Is this even possible? If it’s going to happen, it’s going to take an unprecedented movement. But we’re in an era where we have tools that make unprecedented movements kind of easy — namely social media. Protesters in Northern Africa have used Facebook again and again to stand up to repressive regimes. Could it be used to break the NRA’s stranglehold on public opinion?
But even on social media, the NRA is way ahead of those working to prevent gun violence. They have nearly two million Facebook fans. The Brady Campaign has just about 50,000 and Americans for Responsible Solutions around 25,000.
So how about some pure grassroots, organic effort? Is anything popping up that can harness the awesome power of moms to use the web to organize and connect?
There are several parallel efforts at this point. One Million Moms and Dads Against Gun Violence has about 1,000 Facebook likes so far. One Million Moms for Gun Control has over 20,000 likes and is picking up steam.
Progressive entrepreneur David Bennahum has a vision of a million kids marching on Washington D.C., a living metaphor of what’s at stake in the gun debate. More than 7,000 people are following the Facebook page and the idea has created some controversy over whether parents should include their children in a political debate.
Bennahum told the American Prospect that he considers the whole movement an educational experience. “It’s an amazing teaching opportunity about the right to petition our government, freedom of assembly, and what it means to be an engaged citizen in a democracy,” he said.
It’s a powerful message with a nice start, but they’re still about a million kids away from the goal, at this point.
Here’s what I’m hoping: All these groups will decide on one date — maybe the anniversary of the shooting at the movie theater in Aurora, CO, as that’s a nice time of the year. They’ll reach out to some celebrities with some huge social media followings or find some other way to reach moms who are already engaged on the issue.
And most of all, I hope they’ll stop using the words “gun control,” as Jonathan Alter has suggested. It makes the issue about “freedom” and taking something away. By focusing on “gun safety” or opposing “gun violence,” the victims become the issue, not the gun owners, who, whether you like it or not, feel attacked.
NRA members agree with many of the things we can do to stop gun violence such as closing the gun show/private sales loophole. A large number even support bans on assault weapons and high-volume magazines. A focus on the dangers instead of the gun owners can create the kind of viral energy that’s going to be necessary to do anything to prevent some of the 30,000 gun deaths Americans suffer every year while we have a chance.