As the fight to combat gun violence ramps up, activists are seeking a new approach to tackle the mass shooting epidemic plaguing the United States. Democrats and gun control groups alike have shied away from bans on assault weapons, rather in favor of other preventive legislation. Advocates are moving away from the term “gun control” in favor of more generic terms like “gun safety.” Politicians are attempting to combat gun violence, while still maintaining citizens’ Second Amendment rights.
Democrats and gun control groups see this not as a capitulation to Republicans and the National Rifle Association, but a change in strategy that has worked for other groups in the past. A few years before the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to allow gay marriage nationwide, activists began calling their cause “marriage equality” instead. Those who champion for the rights of illegal immigrants often refer to them as “undocumented workers.” There is a reason former President Barack Obama refused to use the words “Islamic terrorism.”
Words matter. Certain terms and phrases can scare people. “Gun control” can often make it sound like the government is trying to eliminate all citizens’ guns, which scares a lot of people. Many gun owners have an underlying fear that politicians want to tear them away from their beloved firearms, which is why gun sales skyrocket after a mass shooting. While no one wants to see these murders take place, many Americans have an even bigger fear of being forced to part with their rifles. This is a narrative that the GOP has pushed for decades and has worked.
In an attempt to assure the public that they are not gun abolitionists, the Democrats have attempted a strategy from newly elected Pennsylvania Congressman Conor Lamb’s playbook: compromise. It is possible to push some legislation that the vast majority of Americans want while not going too far. Change is not going to happen overnight, but baby steps that can convince responsible gun owners that they will not have to forfeit all of their firearms will be the key to success in the midterms.
This is why it is completely counterproductive for retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens to call for a repeal of the Second Amendment. While Stevens makes many excellent points, this is exactly what Republicans and the NRA will point to when they claim that gun control activists are “trying to take your guns away.” Democrats should run fast in the other direction, regardless of their stance on Stevens’ opinions.
The fact of the matter is that only one in five Americans support a repeal of the Second Amendment. It may very well be a “relic of the 18th century,” as Stevens puts it, but it is something that the majority of the nation supports.
Experienced Democrats recognize this and have incorporated it into their politics. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton often spoke of the need for gun control on the campaign trail, while still defending the Second Amendment. Obama, who was notoriously frustrated with the mass shooting epidemic and his inability to push any legislation through, has publicly stated that he “believes in the Second Amendment.” Even the extremely liberal Bernie Sanders supports gun rights.
Talk of banning the Second Amendment at this moment in time is not going to serve anyone’s interest. It will only infuriate the gun lovers, give the NRA more fuel for the paranoia-inducing rhetoric it spews and unfairly label gun control activists with the radicalness they have been attempting to distance themselves from.
It will be difficult to ever pass meaningful gun restrictions at the federal level with a Republican-controlled Congress. However, this November looks very promising for the Democratic party. Winning within Trump’s America is far from impossible, as seen by Lamb’s win in Pennsylvania, but it requires flexibility and understanding of the views constituents hold. Republicans largely populate the Midwest and southern portions of the United States because they appeal to these voters’ core issues.
This is not to say Democrats have to abandon their values. They just need to be willing to listen and understand the concerns of voters. Most Americans want common sense gun control, but most also support the Second Amendment. A middle ground has to be reached. Extremist comments like those made by Stevens only further alienate a majority of the population who is already under the fear their constitutional rights will be taken away.
Democrats would be wise to distance themselves from stances like this. Allow the Republicans to keep pocketing money from the NRA and resist change, while the liberal party seeks to reform gun laws while still acknowledging the rights of law-abiding gun owners. This is what most Americans want. Messages like this are what will help Democrats take back Congress and influence political change at the highest levels of government.
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