Why We Can’t Get Background Checks & Other Restrictions on Guns

With 9 out of 10 Americans and even 9 out of 10 gun owners wanting background checks and other limitations on gun access, why can’t we even discuss the issue intelligently?

The Chart is mindboggling. Vertical access is number of mass shootings, horizontal axis is number of guns possessed. You can barely see the US, all by itself in the upper right corner.

Yesterday, I suggested that the measure of a nation can be found in its ability to work together for the common good, to form alliances where common ground can be found and to solve pressing community challenges. While you could point to any number of public policy debates where we are not working together, nowhere….absolutely nowhere is this inability more obvious than in relation to gun control. While every other nation on earth has found ways to restrict gun access and, not surprisingly, experience far lower levels of gun violence, the US can’t even discuss the issue, much less pass the most benign limits on guns. The chart at left shows clearly how this is uniquely a US problem. Why? This blog seeks answers as to why this is so.

From CNN:  “Things like closing the so-called gun show loophole or restricting the mentally ill from buying guns are supported by huge majorities of Republicans and Democrats. In a Quinnipiac University poll conducted in June, 94%(!) of Americans supported the idea of all gun purchases being subject to background checks — including 92% of people who live in a home with a gun. A Pew poll from this past summer showed that 89% of gun owners and 89% of non-gun owners support preventing mentally ill people from buying guns.”  CNN goes on to ask the question:  “So, why has no major — or, really, even minor — gun control passed Congress since the assault weapons ban in the mid-1990s? And why, in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016, did Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy’s legislation to close the gun show loophole and ban firearms sales over the Internet fail — with all but one Republican opposing it and three Democrats also voting against it?”

While CNN acknowledges the NRA’s role in this inaction, they point to a much more fundamental ideological barrier: unvarnished manipulation of reality by politicians, with Donald Trump being at the top of a long, long list. “Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment,” Donald Trump said at a rally in North Carolina in August 2016. It was a claim he repeated time and again on the campaign trail as a way of amping up the stakes — and the threat — in the election. Trump has continued to beat that drum in office. “If Crooked Hillary got elected, you would not have a 2nd Amendment, believe me,” Trump told a rally in Alabama last month.” All you have to do is watch the Lewis campaign ads attacking Tim Keller as if he were a champion for pedophelia. It is this fear-based rhetoric that taints public discourse and that divides people who actually share the same views on guns and very importantly on a slew of other social and economic issues. Click here to read the full CNN report, including a short video of Obama responding to Anderson Cooper on the ‘conspiracy’ among liberals to take everyone’s guns and impose martial law.

A 2012 Atlantic article points to one of the reasons that it is so hard to get gun control legislation passed: “Control of the U.S. House of Representatives comes down to only about 35 districts — fewer than 10 percent of the 435 districts — every two years. That gives overwhelming power to undecided voters who live in these swing districts, many of which are rural and conservative-leaning. This set-up also gives enormous power to the NRA, because many NRA members live in these rural swing districts.” Retake will examine where these swing districts are and report in a future blog. While the wins last night are certainly significant, click here for an excellent, concise summary of what happened in last night’s elections and what it might mean. Spoiler alert: complete Democratic sweep from coast to coast. This article, lists one-by-one, a mind boggling series of wins: the first woman this, the first trans that, the first black this, the first Democrat in X years. The list is incredible and inspiring. So if you are looking for tens minutes of non-stop good news, I recommend you go to the link above.

The Atlantic goes on to point to why the Democrats are less and less inclined to take on gun control: “Many Democrats believe that strong support for gun control has cost their party key elections in such rural states as West Virginia, Missouri, Ohio, Arkansas, Colorado, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. They believe that Al Gore lost the presidential election in 2000 in his home state of Tennessee because he was on the wrong side of this issue. That led to Democrats ducking and even pandering on this issue.” Click here for more from the Atlantic.

But to me, there is a far more pernicious reason why the right funds ads riddled with fear-based claims that one law requiring background checks would lead to a whole slew of new laws ultimately leading to the entire disarming of America. These ads cause people who otherwise would support moderate candidates who would advance moderate gun control legislation, would also likely find common ground with low-income, largely white individuals on economic grounds, as well. They might find common ground on getting money out of politics, and on healthcare. Before long, we might have an American voting bloc that had found multiple points of commonality and present a force that could wrest some measure of control of public discourse from the far right. If we are to achieve anything like climate, economic, racial and social justice in the US we must figure out how to penetrate this fear-based rhetoric that dominates US public discourse.

The solution to me is a very long-term educational one, a process predicated upon conversations across the fence, across the aisle, and across the dinner table between people who share far more views on guns than they think they do. And then with some common ground found there, seek to identify other areas of common ground. Over the next few weeks, Retake is going to ponder ways in which to organize a campaign of conversations around topics where polling indicates common ground, but where divisive and disingenuous corruption of public discourse has prevented identifying common ground. It is a very long haul process, but Thanksgiving might be one of those opportunities to explore dialog and pose the question:  “Given that 92% of gun owners favor background checks, why can’t we get this passed?”  With Roxanne and I having Thanksgiving at our GOP neighbors, it just might be a perfect opportunity to test the waters.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne

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