There’s no longer any denying that the latest wave of gun control activism has passed. Following the Sandy Hook shooting everything was on the table, and the usual gun control extremists managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory once more by over reaching and proving that they really have no idea what they are doing. It’s taken two years, but it seems that not only has gun control fever gone back down to “normal” levels (at a national level, anyway) but gun rights groups have made some major gains. With the typical gun control targets no longer proving as fruitful, I suspect that we are about to see a shift in tactics to focus on the new “low hanging fruit” . . .
In my former life, I was a risk analyst working on terrorism-related questions. One of the things that we often did was threat and vulnerability analysis, trying to determine where the bad guys would likely attack and whether there was any vulnerability in those areas to exploit. When it comes to gun rights, the same kind of analysis is equally applicable. And as I see it, there are three high-probability targets that gun control extremists will focus on in the next couple years.
One of the main reasons that Shannon Watts and her Bloomberg-funded group Moms Demand Action has been so successful in getting mainstream media attention is they exploit a very basic parental instinct: the “think of the children” appeal.
Starting immediately after Sandy Hook, the gun control groups started using children as a valid avenue through which to attack gun rights. The New York Times got it started when they published a hilariously biased an terribly researched hit piece (debunked here), then Sannon and her Moms picked up the torch and ran with it. People might not assign much risk to being assaulted or shot personally, but when it comes to poor, defenseless children, the emotional response frequently overrides the logical response and people are much more likely to give up individual rights for the promise of security.
There has recently been a renewed push to keep guns and children separated following the isolated incident of a 9-year-old child accidentally killing a firearms instructor. And while the guns-and-children theme has been constant throughout the recent gun control campaigns there’s a real possibility that this latest event will snowball into an attempt to use legislation to ban children form using guns.
The real danger from this isn’t for the average gun owner, but for the gun culture in general. Over 50% of gun owners (who read TTAG) started shooting before they turned 11, and that early introduction is key to starting those individuals on a lifetime of gun ownership and usage. Practices that are introduced early tend to have real staying power, and banning the time honored tradition of parents teaching their kids how to shoot is a direct attack on the culture.
While using the “think of the children” approach might be useful in getting an immediate emotional response, the good news is that it usually peters out pretty quickly. Emotional appeals have proven time and again incapable of gathering the support needed to push legislation through at the federal level, mainly due to the raw power of a pissed off NRA membership opposing weak, emotional arguments. There have been some emotion-based wins in California and New York, but on the national stage it isn’t a sustainable approach.
Using children as a platform might be good for a quick localized victory, but it isn’t powerful enough to fuel a national campaign. An attack on firearms usage by children is definitely something to watch for in local elections and politics, but unless another major school shooting takes place it’s doubtful that there will be any national traction on that front.
We’ve already seen the “pivot” to mental health take place. Prior to 2012, the majority of the discussion around firearms in the United States focused on the objects and not necessarily those that posses them. Recently though, that has all changed.
The real turning point seemed to happen during the Isla Vista shooting episode. Despite the already numerous options the parents of the murderer had at their disposal to keep their son from committing crimes, they used exactly none of them and allowed a mass murder to take place. The discussion in the aftermath of that incident wasn’t based around already existing options and why the parents didn’t take advantage of them — the discussion was about the need for a new “gun violence restraining order” mechanism. More laws with less oversight, designed to make it impossible to legally own a gun in California.
There’s a definite “slippery slope” when it comes to mental health. There is no Voight-Kampff test for identifying future serial killers, so any metrics used to disqualify someone from purchasing a firearm would naturally need to be excessively broad. There’s already a form of broad mental health disqualification associated with the federal NICS background check system and ATF form 4473, which disqualifies people who have been involuntarily committed or adjudicated as mentally defective by a judge. Adding anything else above and beyond that metric is opening the flood gates.
Where would it stop? Anyone who takes anti-depressants (~10% of Americans)? Anyone who sees a mental health professional (~14% of Americans)? Anyone prescribed any psychiatric drugs (~20% of Americans)? Anyone who even recreationally takes any psychoactive drugs (~50% of Americans)? Who even defines what falls into each category?
While banning individuals based on mental health conditions is definitely an avenue for attack that the gun control groups are using, the more effective argument seems to be using mental health as an excuse to impose new loosely overseen gun laws. California’s new Gun Violence Restraining Order law is one shining example, where politicians have successfully used the argument that these orders could be used to stop “mentally unstable” people from owning guns. The problem is that the law is so broad as to be applicable to any gun owner. If anyone on the street sees someone buying some ammunition, they can get one of these restraining orders issued against that individual and send the friendly local SWAT team to raid their house and forcibly remove their firearms. That’s one of the most blatant infringements of a civil right that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.
The power behind the mental health argument is that any opposition is easy to portray as extremist. “The NRA wants crazy people to have guns! Mental patients with assault rifles!” The intelligent people know better, but for the uninformed masses it’s an easy message to get across. It’s for that reason that I see this avenue of attack as the most likely and the hardest to defend against.
Handguns, Smart and Otherwise
This weekend, the New York Times finally admitted that “assault weapons” aren’t a real problem. After decades of demanding that every politician ban “assault rifles” and shaming those who don’t, they themselves have admitted the futility of their position both in a logical sense and a political sense. In that same article they went on to describe how the real villain in terms of firearms is the lowly handgun, and seemed to be agitating for a ban on the evil devices.
The good news in terms of handguns is that there’s a Supreme Court case gumming up the works for the gun control extremists. The Super Seven have specifically ruled that handguns are protected under the Second Amendment, and cannot be banned. But while a full frontal assault is out of the question, a flanking maneuver is already underway.
California recently instituted a new law requiring all new handguns to have microstamping functions built into the gun. For a peek into how dumb that idea is, check this article out. Anyway, while it would seem to keep the doors wide open for new handguns (provided they meet the new specs), the reality is that gun companies don’t want to sink their R&D dollars into a concept that doesn’t actually work. The smarter and cheaper move is to simply ignore California, and therefore choke off all new handgun sales to the state.
There’s no doubt that the microstamping law will be coming under heavy scrutiny shortly, but it shows that there are ways around the Supreme Court to institute a ban even when the law seems to permit the sale of handguns. Another such law is in New Jersey, where the “smart gun” law is threatening to choke off sales of handguns in that state as well. For a look at that dumb idea, click here. The problem is that while “smart guns” seem like the silver bullet solution to “gun violence,” they aren’t even reliable enough for a trip to the range. Instead of improving firearms, smart guns intentionally break the gun and aren’t reliable enough to depend on when an emergency situation develops.
While the Supreme Court would seem to have our backs on handguns, the reality is that there’s some room on the edges for gun control extremist organizations to insert seemingly helpful laws that would in reality choke out all sales of handguns in the United States. Ignorance is their key tool in this fight, and the dumber they can keep the public in terms of how “smart guns” and microstamping actually works and how effective they are the better their chances of implementing those laws become.
The approach gun control groups use to advocate for their positions can be summed up in one word: ignorance. The less information the American public knows about how guns actually work and what the proposals gun control groups are making would actually do the better their chances. Gun control groups thrive on pithy one-liner quips and slogans that seem “common sense,” but when you break through the surface you see the real fear and loathing that gun control activists hold towards gun owners.
There are a couple avenues that gun control groups could take their campaigns in the coming years, but there is only one key to keeping them from winning. Education is the key, and the more the American people know about the truth about guns the better. Gun control activists want unthinking drones to follow their millionaire leaders, but all gun rights needs to do to win is show people the truth.