Fighting Gun Violence By Ignoring It


UCLA constitutional law professor Adam Winkler took to The Daily Beast yesterday with a confusing message: Gun violence prevention is a "serious issue that deserves our leaders' attention," but those who care about the issue should avoid at all costs actually discussing it in public. He claims that doing so puts both progressive electability and gun violence prevention itself in peril before a wrathful gun lobby and its massive political war chest.

This argument simply doesn't hold up: the gun lobby is planning a massive campaign whether progressives push for stronger gun laws or not, and progressives have won in the face of such efforts in the past.

The impetus for Winkler's befuddled argument is Sunday's Super Bowl ad in which New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston mayor Thomas Menino, the leaders of Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), state that they "both support the Second Amendment and believe America must do more to keep guns out of the hands of criminals."

In the past, Winkler has been criticized for "tr[ying] too hard ... to present himself as one of the few rational voices" in the debate while improperly implying that the gun violence prevention movement is "defined by extremists." But while Winkler calls gun violence "a serious issue that deserves our leaders' attention," he never actually engages with the solutions that Bloomberg and Menino have brought to the table. At least not in this piece; in a previous op-ed for the Beast, he wrote:

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's organization, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, has proposed a viable and worthwhile set of reforms that would provide more funds to states to help cover the costs of record-keeping; stiffening penalties for states that don't submit records to the federal government; and clarifying the current gun laws' definition of mental illness.

So Winkler agrees that gun violence is a "serious issue," and largely approves of how the group would deal with that problem. And yet, he opposes the group actually trying to enact the legislation he supports. When or how this "serious issue" could receive "our leaders' attention" without anyone pushing for it goes unmentioned.

Winkler writes that "President Obama focusing on gun control this year would only stimulate gun-related interest groups, like the National Rifle Association, and encourage them to spend even more money to turn out the vote for Republican candidates." But the gun lobby is already preparing a massive spending spree; according to Reuters, "the NRA and the gun industry's trade group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), have announced they will have a combined war chest of $225 million" already raised. Winkler presents no evidence suggesting that the lobby plans to spend a cent less than they are capable of spending.

Winkler even acknowledges that "the gun lobby is going to oppose Obama's reelection no matter what," but believes that they have "a credibility problem" because while they have been "ominously warning gun owners" since the 2008 election about how the president is planning to impede their rights, he has "actually made the nation's gun laws more permissive" in his term in office, and thus the NRA's attacks will be futile unless he takes action on gun control.

This logic ignores a fairly important point: President Obama was elected in 2008, on a platform that included permanently reinstating the assault weapons ban, in spite of the NRA spending more than $13 million to defeat him, and before the creation of this gun lobby "credibility problem." But somehow pushing for policies Winkler has called "viable and worthwhile" and even National Review writers have praised could be cataclysmic for liberals.

Indeed, polls have found Americans strongly support the policy proposals to combat gun violence Winkler previously praised. One poll even found that the NRA's own members support some of the anti-gun violence policies the NRA vehemently campaigns against.

One poll conducted jointly by Republican and Democratic polling firms for MAIG found that 90 percent of respondents support the efforts to fill the gaps in government databases to prevent the mentally ill and drug abusers from purchasing firearms that Winkler has cited with approval. The same poll showed that 86 percent of all respondents and 81 percent of gun-owning households support the group's proposal requiring "all gun buyers to pass a criminal background check, no matter where they buy the gun and no matter who they buy it from." Polling by Republican Frank Luntz showed that 69 percent of NRA gun owners support requiring all sellers at gun shows to conduct criminal background checks. In the face of this data, Winkler's claim that voters will punish a politician that supports closing these loopholes or other reasonable measures to address gun violence simply doesn't hold up.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Guns
Guns, National Rifle Association
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