It’s official. The NRA has won the battle for the hearts and minds of the American people. The victory has been announced by none other than The New York Times in an editorial from Charles Blow, reporting on a report from Pew Research, which shows that more Americans favor “gun rights” than favor “gun control.” The margin is narrow, 52 to 46, but in surveys conducted since 1993, the gun-control folks held a substantial lead over the pro-gun gang in every poll. Now for the first time, the positions have “flipped,” leading Blow to announce that “The NRA appears to be winning this round.”
Not surprisingly, this opinion piece caught the attention of the gun-sense community, and not in a particularly positive way. After all, the Times has published numerous editorials calling for stricter gun licensing, and the paper went out of its way to highlight the news that none of the guns displayed at the recent NRA show in Nashville could actually be made to shoot. Want to get someone on the pro-gun side to quickly lose his cool? Mention Mike Bloomberg or The New York Times. Take your pick.
After announcing the results of the Pew survey, Blow gave his best guess as to why public opinion appears to be favoring less gun control. I’m being polite by characterizing Blow’s explanations as being a ‘best guess.’ The truth is that nobody really knows whether anyone who is asked a question about something as politically insignificant as guns has spent more than two seconds thinking about the issue before they picked up the phone. Guns only register as an important issue in polls that are conducted immediately after a high-profile shooting (Gabby Giffords, Sandy Hook), and with all due respect to Mr. Blow, I have never been convinced that we should take public opinion all that seriously about an issue whose significance rises and falls following random events.
Be that as it may, I want to offer a counter-argument to the Times and Charles Blow, and I want to make it clear that neither am I looking for some kind of silver lining in what otherwise might be seen from the gun-sense side as a depressing state of affairs, nor am I suggesting that the survey question no longer captures a valid view of what the gun argument is all about. Because no matter what people who want to see an end to gun violence might think, changing public policy on gun ownership means making changes in the law. And even if the laws are only changed to make it more difficult for guns to get into the ‘wrong hands,’ (e.g., domestic abusers, violent misdemeanors), this still means extending the reach of government as to whom should be able to own guns. If that doesn’t qualify as new or additional controls, no matter how you dress it up, then perhaps I need a refresher course in English 101.
One thing I do know is that the mortality and morbidity resulting from the use of guns amounts to more than 100,000 Americans every year. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s intentional or unintentional, whether it’s self-inflicted or inflicted by someone else, the one thing that all this mortality and morbidity shares is that it involved a gun. And the other thing we know is that changing anything that results in this kind of behavior takes a very long time. Tobacco was proven harmful fifty years before warnings appeared on cigarette packs.
Widespread advocacy about gun violence is really only twenty years old. And let’s not forget that the survey used by Charles Blow was actually conducted and published last December, with public opinion about all progressive issues in the doldrums after the mid-term election results of 2014. The fact that the NRA continues to marginalize and sensationalize its own message is not symptomatic of strength, but of a failure to attract new demographics (women, minorities, etc.) to its fold. I wouldn’t be so quick to move the NRA into the winner’s circle. Not just yet.