Gun control. Mind control. Government out-of-control. Americans don’t much like being controlled or told what to do and the second amendment speaks not so much to our right to hunt deer or even to protect ourselves against a burglar as it does to our right to not be disarmed by our government. We had experienced a totalitarian Britain that disarmed and abused our forefathers. Having the right to bear arms meant that a foreign power or an over-reaching central government would have to think twice before quartering soldiers in our houses without permission or imposing through force policies that a vast majority of Americans wanted to resist to the death. Bearing arms is a symbol that we are a free people and that we control our own destiny. Guns also became powerful cultural symbols, emblematic of a largely rural tradition passed from parents to children that includes a respect for nature and a hunting culture that values self-sufficiency and natural food.
For the longest time, the gun control debate pitted mostly rural Americans against urban elites who sometimes failed to respect rural values and had little sensitivity to the deep roots of gun culture and gun liberty.
I ran for Congress in a district with a strong second amendment tradition and have been raised around guns my entire life. I saw the knee jerk extremism that the right-wing caricature of “gun control” caused…with extremist groups asking… “What about guns in bars? If you don’t support guns in bars, you are an enemy of the second amendment. What about guns in church? What about guns at the hospital? What about buying 10 guns at once? Democrats supporting any restrictions were assumed to support a complete ban. We were coming for your guns.
When a powerful interest group wins on an issue, they tend to go to such extremes in their victory that they end up losing and balance is restored. This happened in abortion, where debates over partial birth abortions and parental notifications for 14 year olds made democrats who opposed all abortion restrictions look extreme and Republicans were able to caricature us as pro-abortion rather than pro-choice. Now with transvaginal probes, personhood and abortion bans even in cases of rape and incest, Republicans look extreme on this issue and it has once again become a winning issue for Democrats. President Obama won 2/3s of single women.
Americans have a tradition of respect for the second amendment, but they also know that our freedoms and liberties have to be respectfully balanced against other important goals for our country, like keeping school children safe and keeping terrorists, the mentally ill and criminals from owning guns. Americans look at the NRA’s take no prisoners, give no quarter, arm-a teacher response to the Sandy Hook tragedy and they see extremism, an interest group out-of-control, not a government.
Democrats. Even red state Democrats take note. Sandy Hook put a face on unlimited gun rights and an NRA run amok. It’s time to stop being afraid of the NRA. Time to stop changing the subject when guns are brought up. You can run on commonsense gun restrictions and you can win. For the first time in decades, there is now a political price to be paid for gun extremism. I’ve got an idea for your first commercial. Did you see Wayne LaPierre on Meet the Press?