OP-ED | Whatever It Takes When It Comes To Gun Policy
“Whatever it takes” means setting a standard and cleaning house.
Gun control groups’ rhetoric and that of the politicians who support them is finally matching the urgency of the moment. Although the slogan “Not One More” is aspirational, the new slogan, “Whatever It Takes” reflects a more accurate view of what is required.
Just last week, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut put out a very strong statement, suggesting the Congress’ failure to act to curb gun violence has engendered complicity in the murders that result. “I’ve never been more offended by anything in my life than the absolute, utter inability of Congress to even have a debate about how we might be able to do things differently,” Murphy told the Huffington Post in an interview.
Even before the Sandy Hook tragedy, which took place in his former congressional district, and certainly since, Murphy has been a consistent, powerful voice for gun safety. Yet, Murphy, like many other Democratic leaders, hasn’t taken one necessary step — delegitimizing the NRA in every possible way, including withdrawing support for local Democrats who receive the NRA’s endorsement or support its positions.
The NRA is the single most important obstacle to gun reform. Whatever common ground might exist between reasonable gun owners and those seeking sensible restrictions on gun purchases cannot be found so long as the NRA is at the table. And the NRA will be at the table so long as the general public perceives it favorably — as is the case in the most recent national poll on the question. Of those surveyed, 43 percent had a positive view of the NRA; 32 percent had a negative view.
The NRA has retained its positive public perception despite the fact that it is the force most responsible for killing the bi-partisan 2013 Manchin-Toomey bill on background checks proposed after Sandy Hook. The NRA also is responsible for Youtube videos like the one in which a gun advocate says that if Connecticut seeks to enforce its gun laws, shooting the people who are doing the enforcing, presumably police officers, would be justified. That this vile video didn’t result in more attention and criticism is a problem in itself.
It is just one example in an overwhelming case against the NRA that includes board member Ted Nugent saying Obama should suck on a machine gun, and another board member blaming the murdered Charleston pastor for his own death. Anyone who pays attention to what NRA officials say knows what sort of people they are.
Gun control advocates’ mission therefore should be obvious: to show the public that the NRA is a not a legitimate advocacy group, with whom they may agree on some points, but a front for political extremists and for the gun manufacturers who oppose increased background checks because they will decrease sales. The gun safety movement needs to pull away the NRA’s seat at the table. The way to do that is to make the group politically toxic, to make an NRA endorsement so poisonous in enough districts that politicians will stop seeking it.
The easiest place to start is to reject any claim the group has to bipartisanship. Since the year 2000, the NRA has launched vicious attacks against every Democratic presidential nominee and president, every year, every time, without fail. As of late, the group has even begun to turn on Democrats who vote its way. U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas voted against Manchin-Toomey and the NRA still endorsed against him. He is now former U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor.
Playing the NRA’s game is a loser for Democrats at the national level. Yet that’s not the only field on which the game is played. The NRA has used state-level endorsements to maintain its bi-partisan credibility, which in turn bolsters the group’s favorable public posture. Democratic leaders’ tolerance of NRA-endorsed local politicians causes serious damage.
Connecticut is a perfect example of the reach of pro-gun advocacy in what is an overwhelmingly pro-gun safety state. Following the Sandy Hook tragedy, a bill passed by a more than 2-to-1 margin that limited to 10 the number of rounds a magazine could fire and increased licensing requirements for the purchase of ammunition, among other measures. Still, 15 Democrats voted against the legislation, 14 on pro-gun grounds. The state Democratic establishment never challenged those legislators and 12 of them are still in the legislature. (Full disclosure, I challenged one of them unsuccessfully in a Democratic primary.)
Those pro-gun Democratic votes seemingly didn’t matter in 2013, but the presence of those 12 pro-gun Democrats did two years later. They helped kill a 2015 bill that would have required those who had a temporary restraining order against them to give up their guns. The bill was defeated, even though former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords , a poignant victim of gun violence herself, came all the way to Connecticut to offer her support.
Here’s the point. Senator Murphy has influence over those 12 people. He can tell them: You can accept the NRA’s support, or you can earn support from people like me; you can never have both. This is not a litmus test on the issue of gun policy. It is instead a litmus test on extremism. It will be a long slog to delegitimize the NRA, but it has to start with this principle. Although there is room to negotiate over what the solution should be, the NRA should never be in the room. “Whatever It Takes” mean ostracizing the NRA once and for all.
Jason Paul of West Hartford is a partner in a campaign consulting company called What’s Next. He is also a graduate of the University of Connecticut Law School.
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