The Wall Street Journal carried an interesting interview this morning with Mark Glaze who, until Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts combined to form Everytown, was the Executive Director of Bloomberg’s first gun-control group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns. I’m not sure whether this group ever had a clear objective for what it wanted to do; some of its research efforts were outstanding, some were duds, there didn’t seem to be any attempt to forge a unified and active voice among the city mayors who comprised the membership, and their lobbying efforts in Washington certainly never paid off. But that’s all history now as Everytown seems to be ramping up for the next round, meanwhile Mr. Glaze sat down with a WSJ reporter to reflect on what he had and hadn’t done.
What I found most interesting in his comments was an attempt to tie the failure of gun control in Washington to other issues that have nothing to do with guns. In particular, Glaze focused on the controversy about NSA spying that emerged in the flight and prosecution of Anthony Snowden, as well as the botched roll-out of the website that prevented people from signing on to the ACA. To quote Glaze: “There’s an almost perfect overlap, I think, between the people who are the most active and radicalized gun voters and people who just don’t like and trust the government very much.”
The fact that both the website mess and Snowden’s revelations occurred long after the post-Sandy Hook gun control bill was dead and buried doesn’t really negate his general point of view. The NRA has been attacking the Federal government’s alleged whittling away of gun rights for the last twenty years, in particular whenever a Democratic administration tries to enact even the most mild gun reforms. In fact, the gun bill that was ultimately voted down in 2013 was a much less draconian measure – in terms of the scope of government regulation – than what Clinton got through the Congress in the form of the Brady Bill in 1993 and the assault weapons ban in 1994.
Glaze shouldn’t be faulted for seeing only the tip of the iceberg because his vantage-point for understanding the behavior of the NRA is, by definition, the very narrow perspective that surrounds anyone who’s work ties them to hanging around DC. The truth is that what makes the NRA so formidable is not the care and attention they lavish on elected officials in Washington (what they hand out for political campaigns is a tiny fraction of what other industries like banking and lawyers shell out every two years) but their efforts at the state level to promote issues like LTC.
In 1994, following passage of Brady, less than half the states operated under laws that made it relatively easy to qualify for concealed-carry permits, a number which has swelled to include just about every state, even though the Supreme Court explicitly stated that the 2nd Amendment did not cover carrying a gun outside the home for self defense when they ruled for Heller in 2008. And while there are still a few jurisdictions, particularly large cities like Washington, New York and Chicago where LTC is basically not issued, probably 90% of all Americans, particularly in areas where everyone owns a gun, can qualify to carry a gun on their person with about as much difficulty as they would encounter in acquiring a license to operate a small boat.
If the NRA has been the main voice preventing more gun control in Washington, it’s because out in the hinterlands most of us can walk around with a gun in our pocket and pretend that we are the “good guys” who are on the lookout to protect everyone else from the “bad guys” with guns. The fact that gun violence rates have stabilized or increased slightly in the years since LTC became the law of the land is one of those inconvenient facts that the NRA simply chooses to ignore. But nobody ever said that a successful advocacy campaign requires having the facts on your side. What the NRA knows how to do is reach gun owners in ways that really count, a strategy that the gun control folks still need to figure out.