Ladies and gentlemen of the gun rights community, I come before you today with a simple request, a challenge, an exhortation. In the year and years ahead, leave party politics at the door. That’s not to say you should sing the apolitical blues. The rules and regulations that curtail our gun rights are the poisonous fruit of shameless politicians. And I realize that the gun community skews right politically for a reason; traditional conservatives conserve gun rights. But full-throated support of one political party hurts our cause . . .
As with every major issue, both political parties have changed their views on gun rights over time. As Adam Winkler’s book Gun Fight points out, Republicans haven’t always been the gun owner’s best friend. Ronald Reagan ushered in California’s current era of gun control when, as Governor of the Golden State, he signed the Mulford Act of 1967—after a Black Panthers’ open carry display in the California legislature unleashed racially-motivated paranoia.
Reagan happily supported and signed the Brady Bill. “[Back] in 1969, journalist William Safire asked Richard Nixon what he thought about gun control, newsmax relates. “‘Guns are an abomination,’ Nixon replied. According to Safire, Nixon went on to confess that, ‘Free from fear of gun owners’ retaliation at the polls, he favored making handguns illegal and requiring licenses for hunting rifles.'”
Reaching further back in time, even the hawkish NRA was a long way from the “cold dead hands” advocacy group we see today. Thanks in large part to the NRA’s lobbying efforts, there’s now a strong alignment between Republicans and the gun rights movement. But how strong are those ties really? Too strong?
On this blog and the many others that I frequent, I notice the same comment pattern. There are a lot of conservative Republicans, a solid sprinkling of younger Libertarian types (myself included) and one or two liberal trolls who provide the grist for the cavalcade of negative comments, which I have often taken part in. And in this is the problem.
Gun ownership is expanding into traditionally liberal constituencies. The greatest growth in concealed carry is among women. Gay rights groups are getting in on the action, citing the need to protect themselves against hate crimes. Inner city African Americans and Hispanics are gradually understanding (or at least becoming aware of) the “more guns less crime” dynamic.
Plenty of center-left voters have noticed that the predictions of blood in the streets have not followed the expansion of concealed carry. This Supreme Court and Republican-enabled trend is a victory for our side, but it carries within it its own danger. Gun rights cannot succeed permanently unless and until they are a non-partisan issue. Sure, we’re on the winning side for now, but one bad election can change all that.
Many conservatives cannot fathom that anyone who doesn’t agree with them on taxes, gays and muslims could be an ally. But liberal gun rights supporters are the best allies we could ever have.
Far be it from me to suggest that we surrender our beliefs on important political issues. If you’re a Republican, you should stick to your guns on these issues. But gun rights are not a Republican preserve. We should be working constantly to increase the base of support, not drive away potential allies. Our greatest victory will not be when Republicans win an election, but when the Democratic Party will not support gun control any longer.
This is the time to expand our support base into traditionally anti-gun territory. There is no logical reason why the supporters of women’s rights, gay rights and minority rights should not be first in line to exercise their Second Amendment rights. They have the most to gain. But you have it within your power to drive them off, and ensure that this battle has no conclusion, and continues for generations.
So leave party politics out of your communications on gun rights. If someone espouses hoplophobia, by all means, blast away (metaphorically, of course). But remember that when you insult half the political spectrum with [understandable] views on immigration, religion and other contentious issues, you turn our most important potential allies away.