Robert Walker is the former head of Handgun Control Inc., a gun control organization absorbed by the anti-gun borg (the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence). Walker’s now embedded within The Population Institute. According to its website, Walker “directs the organization’s advocacy and public education activities, including its work on issues related to health, economic development, sustainability and the environment.” Needless to say, the last part of his remit requires a full-on commitment to anti-thisestablishmentglobalwarmingtarianism. Which is why he’s advising “climate activists” to learn from his experience on gun control and do what the NRA does. Which is what, exactly?
Walker’s article at grist.org—What climate activists need to learn from the NRA and the gun-control wars—breaks down the NRA’s strategies into, you guessed it, bullet points. The first two offer Sun Tzu-like political generalities that don’t mention the NRA by name. And then, the good stuff . . .
Fight behind enemy lines. Support on controversial issues tends to divide along party lines, but don’t let that stop you from recruiting and supporting a candidate on your issue who happens to be a member of the other party. In fact, getting involved in primary fights on the other side of the political aisle may be the single most effective thing you can do to change the political dynamic. Members of Congress will do almost anything — including voting for climate-change legislation — to avoid a serious primary challenge. There’s a reason why the NRA’s political action committee, which generally backs Republican candidates, also devotes a lot of resources to unseating Democrats in primaries. Win or lose, it gets the attention of their opponents.
So Walker understands that climate change legislation is so politically unpalatable that its advocates have to put a [metaphorical] gun to aspiring pols [symbolic] heads to get them to vote for it. Wait! I’ll do anything to win this primary! Climate change legislation? No! Never! It’s suicide! OK . . . if that’s the way you want it . . . Damn your eyes man! I’ll do it!
I digress. Point taken, although I would have put it “Mess With Everyone’s Head.” Here’s another good one:
Win new allies. Wars are seldom won without strong allies. The same goes for politics. If your allied base is not strong enough, convert some of your erstwhile opponents into allies. The gun lobby suffered two of its worst defeats in the 1990s when gun-control groups successfully recruited the support of major national law-enforcement groups. Supporters of climate-change legislation need to work harder at making allies out of businesses interests that previously may have been skeptical of climate change, like the insurance industry.
True dat. The law enforcement community’s support is key for gun rights’ groups; their “brand” demands that they be seen as fully committed to the boys in blue. Unfortunately (or fortunately), many police chiefs are politicians first, cops second. For example, former Chicago Police Superintendent Chicago Matt Rodriguez was an “advisory panel member” for CeaseFire Inc., the Courtney Love-funded org dedicated to “handgun-free homes and families.”
In liberal enclaves throughout America, top cops are not the NRA’s best friend. At all. Luckily for the pro-gun movement, the majority of the law enforcement community have shifted their position on assault rifles and other gun rights issues. Maybe because they carry off-duty and empathize with legal gun owners, or maybe because they can sense the way the political winds are blowing.
Work on your rallying cry. It’s a shame that most issues in politics, even complex issues like climate change, are often reduced to 25 words or less, but that’s the way it is. Messages serve to frame the debate and can mean the difference between victory and defeat. Both sides of the gun debate have used messaging to their benefit, but over the years the gun lobby has done a better job of it than gun-control proponents. Supporters of climate-change legislation need to go back to the message drawing board.
When Handgun Control Inc. disappeared into the Brady Campaign, Walker was history. You can sense his bitterness here, and a mea culpa as well. Of sorts. Like all cause-based campaigns, from health care reform to gun show loophole closure, failure to achieve public support is always painted as a failure to communicate. The idea that the public rejected a cause because it’s wrong is simply too horrible to contemplate.
Don’t fear to be feared. Progressive groups, including many supporters of climate-change legislation, love to be loved. The gun lobby doesn’t care if you don’t like it, so long as you fear it. The NRA, the most powerful lobby in Washington, is one of the most reviled. Many members of Congress, even pro-gun members, privately bristle at the tactics of the NRA, but that doesn’t stop them from voting in lockstep with the gun lobby.
Reviled? For a politician to revile a lobby group, he or she would have to have morals (a.k.a. a deeply held belief structure). Do you need me to tell you that politicians are clearly, unequivocally, completely amoral people? Any pol bristling at any lobby group does so in search of cash or votes from the group’s antagonists.
Don’t get mad, get even. Bruised, scarred, and brushed aside, no one could blame supporters of climate-change legislation for being angry at a political process that has stymied action on an issue of such great import. When I worked on gun issues, I ran into a lot of activists, particularly the victims and survivors of gun violence, who were incensed at Congress for its failure to adopt sensible gun laws. The key was to channel that anger and frustration into constructive action, and we did that with the passage of the Brady Law and the federal assault-weapons ban.
Although the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act represented a solid victory for gun control advocates, the assault weapons ban is no more.
Aside from that, Walker isn’t wrong. Survivors of gun violence are the most persistent and effective activists for gun control legislation. Their heart-tugging tales of horror and loss over-ride statistical data and common sense. One of the NRA’s greatest PR failings is its inability to mobilize survivors of gun violence—who used legally registered guns to defend themselves and their loved ones—to the cause.
It’s sad that the debate over gun control comes down to a game of “Whose tragedy is this anyway?” But it is what it is. Either that or what organizations on both sides of the issue make it to be.