As the fight to combat gun violence ramps up, activists are seeking a new approach to fight this mass shooting epidemic that has plagued the United States of America. Democrats and gun control groups alike have shied away from bans on assault weapons in favor of other preventive legislation. Advocates are moving away from the term “gun control” in favor of more generic terms like “gun safety.” The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence no longer discusses banning handguns as they once did. Politicians are attempting to combat gun violence, while still maintaining citizens’ Second Amendment rights.
They see this not as a capitulation to Republicans and the National Rifle Association, but a change in strategy that has worked for other groups in the past. A few years before the Supreme Court’s landmark decision, gay marriage activists began calling their cause “marriage equality” instead. Those who champion for the rights of illegal immigrants often refer to them as “undocumented workers.” There is a reason why President Obama never used the words “Islamic terrorism.”
Words matter. Certain terms and phrases can scare people. “Gun control” can often make it sound like the government is trying to come for citizens’ guns, which scares a lot of people. Many gun owners have an underlying fear that politicians want to tear them away from their beloved firearms, which is why gun sales skyrocket after a mass shooting. While no one wants to see these murders take place, many Americans have an even bigger fear of being forced to part with their rifles. This is a narrative that the GOP has pushed for decades and has worked.
In an attempt to assure the public that they are not gun abolitionists, the Democrats have tried a strategy from newly-elected Congressman Conor Lamb’s book: compromise. It is possible to push some legislation that the vast majority of Americans want, while not going too far. Change is not going to happen overnight, but baby steps that can convince responsible gun owners that they will have to forfeit all of the firearms will be key to success in the midterms.
This is why it is completely counterproductive for retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens to call for a repeal of the Second Amendment. While Stevens makes many excellent points, this is exactly what Republicans and the NRA will point to when they claim that gun control activists are “trying to take your guns away.” Democrats should run fast in the other direction, regardless of their stance on it.
The fact of the matter is that only one in five Americans support a repeal of the Second Amendment. It may very well be a “relic of the eighteenth century,” as Stevens puts it, but it is something that the majority of the nation supports.
Experienced Democrats recognize this and have incorporated it into their politics. Hillary Clinton often spoke of the need for gun control on the campaign trail, while still defending the Second Amendment. President Obama, who was notoriously frustrated with the mass shooting epidemic and his inability to do anything through legislation, has said publicly that he “believes in the Second Amendment.” Even the extremely liberal Bernie Sanders supports gun rights.
Talk of banning the Second Amendment right now is not going to help anyone. It will only infuriate the gun lovers, give the NRA more fuel for the paranoia-inducing rhetoric they spew to their members and unfairly label gun control activists with the very same radicalness they have been attempting to distance themselves from.
It will be extremely hard to ever pass any meaningful gun restrictions at the federal level with a Republican-controlled Congress. However, this November looks very promising for the Democratic party. Winning in Trump land is far from impossible, as seen by Conor Lamb’s win in Pennsylvania, but it requires flexibility and understanding the views of constituents in different regions. Republicans largely own the middle and south of America because they appeal to these voters’ core issues.
This is not to say that Democrats have to abandon their values. They just need to be willing to listen and understand the concerns of voters. Most Americans want commonsense gun control, but most also support the Second Amendment. A middle ground is there to be reached. Extremist comments like those made by Justice Stevens serve only to further alienate a majority of the population who is already under the irrational fear that their constitutional rights will be taken away.
Democrats would be wise to distance themselves from stances like this. Allow the Republicans to keep pocketing money from the NRA and resist change, while the liberal party seeks to reform gun laws while still acknowledging the rights of law-abiding citizens. This is what most Americans want. Messages like this are what will help Democrats take back Congress and influence the most political change at the highest levels of government.
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