Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Hitting the Target

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, June 21, 2016 --  

Anti-gun rhetoric is landing more weapons on American streets. It's time for a new strategy.

The utter failure of America's gun control activists to reduce gun crime was highlighted by the country's latest mass shooting last week in Orlando.  With each horrible incident, politicians and pundits attempt to harness fleeting public anger to pass tighter gun control laws, which usually fail.  Meanwhile, the country's red meat conservatives and assorted gun nuts, spooked by plans both real and imagined to take away their guns, run out to add even more weapons to their already sizable arsenals. Statistics show spikes in applications for background checks, a proxy for gun sales, for every major proposal to restrict guns.1

This vicious cycle had put 5 million AR-15 assault rifles in private hands as of two years ago2. This number grows each year, and the weapons easily change ownership at the gun shows.  These shows can be found each weekend in middle American cities and towns where elitist gun control advocates wouldn't be caught dead.  Some of the guns sold end up in the hands of the mentally unstable or criminally deranged. They plan the next mass shooting and the whole cycle starts over again -- each time with even more guns on the streets.

This cycle must be broken.  The first step is for coastal elites to learn to keep their mouths shut about taking away middle Americans' guns.   This will help get red state paranoia under control. Once that's done, the next step will be to convince gun owners that promoting family safety and following Christian values means they really don't need private arsenals in their homes.  Finally, a public campaign of gun buybacks can start to drain the sea of weapons that already saturates the nation.

Can such a non-confrontational strategy work?  Die-hard anti-gun activists may scoff, but they should consider that this has already proven successful with the death penalty.

In three decades railing against executions in his state, Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers never managed to change the law.  A passionate advocate for his predominately African-American North Omaha district, Chambers fumed against a justice system that treated black men unfairly and may have sent innocent people to their deaths.

However valid these arguments may be, they fell on unsympathetic ears in an overwhelmingly white and conservative red state.  Just like today's arguments over gun control, this rhetoric missed its target.

Enter Colby Coash, a white conservative Catholic Nebraska legislator.  In 2015 he joined Chambers' campaign against the death penalty. But he argued that pro-life Christians must value all lives, even those of convicted criminals, and stressed that the financial costs of endless death row court appeals are a waste of taxpayer money.  That same year he joined the battle, the Nebraska legislature outlawed the death penalty, and even overrode the governor's veto to make the law stand.3  And he accomplished this in one of the reddest states in the nation. This all happened because his rhetoric hit his target square on.

If anti-gun activists are to make similar wins, they must find folks like Coash who share the values of middle America and can use targeted rhetoric to convince red state voters that owning more and more guns is not a patriotic virtue.  Just because the Second Amendment guarantees the right of Americans to keep and bear arms doesn't mean it's a good idea for the vast majority of people to do so. Convincing middle America of this simple truth is the key to getting guns off the streets.

Unfortunately, many anti-gun zealots seem intent on alienating the very voters who stand in the way of their agenda by promulgating anti-gun rhetoric that sounds reasonable to coastal elites, but is deeply offensive to middle Americans.  If the the goal is to save lives, not score rhetorical points, then activists must learn that silence can be a virtue.  The time for a new strategy is long overdue.

Related Web Columns:

Bullets and Big Gulps, January 15, 2013

Unimaginable Consequences
America's Simple Choice for Gun Control
, August 10, 1999


1. New York Times, What Happens After Calls for New Gun Restrictions? Sales Go Up, June 13, 2016

2. National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, Not Quite All "The Facts" About the AR-15, November 8, 2013

3. Washington Post, Meet the Red-State Conservatives Fighting to Abolish the Death Penalty, June 3, 2016