Gun Grabbers Disrupt the Gun Lobby at SXSW. Or Not.

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South by Southwest (SXSW) is the annual music, film, and miscellaneous lecture festival that clogs the streets of Austin every March with tens of thousands of out-of-towners who don’t know how to use frontage roads. This year it also drew the heads of some of the foremost anti-gun organizations in America. Mark Glaze, the Executive Director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, lead a panel discussion on Saturday that featured Shannon Watts, the Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America founder, Peter Ambler, founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions and Stephen Geer, also of Mayors Against Illegal Guns . . .

Of all of the throngs choking the capitol at SXSW this week, a crowd of only 40-50 turned out to tepidly welcome the gun grabbers to the most liberal city in Texas. The title of the discussion was “Disrupting the Gun Lobby With Digital Organizing” which may have been a bit too technical for some of the SXSW attendees who seemed to gravitate more towards the “Age of the Alchemist: A D&D Approach to UX Design” lecture that was being given down the hall at the same time (to be honest I actually would have rather been there too).

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Still, the show must go on, so Mark, Peter, Shannon, and Stephen pushed through. While they detailed ways their groups are utilizing social media and data mining to raise money and try to counter the gun lobby’s grass roots advantages, the crux of their discussion seemed to be that gun deaths can be prevented if we just force everyone to undergo a background check every time they purchase a gun. No one was really clear on just how that would work, but they all agreed that they certainly don’t want to take away anyone’s guns and, of course, they all respect the Second Amendment.

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They just want “common sense” legislation because, as Mr. Glaze said, “folks on the right believe that everyone should get a background check and that doing much more to keep guns out of the wrong hands…goes hand in hand with protecting the Second Amendment.” It just becomes a question of whose hands are the wrong ones and which guns we are talking about I suppose. Obviously crazy people shouldn’t have guns…right?

Well, maybe not. Mr. Glaze also made sure to mention that a lack of mental healthcare was not the real issue here. As he correctly pointed out, the majority of murders aren’t committed by lunatics with assault rifles, they are committed by thugs with handguns. So while mental illness is, he says, a bad thing, “don’t let the NRA distract you with that bright, shiny object.”

So criminals are the problem. As long as we keep guns away from convicted felons and violent people, we won’t have a gun death rate “twenty-five times that of the UK.” That’s what those universal background checks are designed to do. Of course some people take issue with that and say that we already have laws on the books that prohibit selling guns to convicted felons and that make straw-purchases illegal and that make it a crime for convicted felons to possess firearms or ammunition, so why do we need more laws? Some people would even have the audacity to point out that the gun laws that we already have on the books aren’t being enforced and that additional restrictions only hurt law abiding gun owners by preventing them from owning or using firearms to defend themselves and others from criminals.

Some people like Drue Placette, whose father was killed last year during an armed robbery at a Denny’s in Houston. Mr. Placette, a Marine Corps veteran and current software developer, told the panel that his father was gunned down by a multiple-convicted felon who was out on bail for murder, and that his friend (who was there and had a CHL but wasn’t carrying at the time because he had to contend with gun-free zones) was helpless to stop it. Mr. Glaze told him that he was very sorry for his loss and moved on.

There is, Glaze said, a disconnect in America today. Gun control, he argued, is as American as apple pie (citing an unsourced statistic that as many Americans like apple pie as support universal background checks). The problem, he says, is that people in rural communities don’t understand gun violence. The communities they live in have high rates of gun ownership and low crime rates so they can’t possibly understand how it feels to grow up in an inner city surrounded by gun violence. Blame the rubes, as it were.

Of course, Mr. Glaze might be confusing cause and effect and perhaps those rural communities with lots of guns have low crime rates because of those guns and not in spite of them. Or maybe, as Mr. Placette suggested, it’s a difference of values between people in high crime areas and those in low crime areas. Maybe the reason that people outside of cities are largely “anti gun law reform” is because, as Mr. Glaze said, people in rural areas have a natural distrust of government because they tend to not use government services and so they don’t see the good things that government regulations can do.

Or maybe it’s just that most people can see that the Second Amendment is pretty clear when it says “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” and these and other members of the Civilian Disarmament Industrial Complex are simply fighting a losing battle.