The last time we engaged in a gun debate that was as loud and time-consuming as what erupted after Sandy Hook was when the assault-weapons ban was enacted in 1994. But there was no internet in 1994 so it’s impossible to compare what happened then to what is going on now. The fact that a large number of “grass roots” gun control organizations have suddenly sprung into existence doesn’t necessarily mean that the country is more or less supportive of gun restrictions versus gun rights than it was twenty years ago. There’s simply no way to compare the noise levels from one communication environment to the other.
What we can compare is the volume of pro-gun versus anti-gun sentiment through an analysis of social media to get some idea of which side might be outshouting the other. Everybody has a Facebook page these days and people who “like” a particular page can receive content each time the page is updated or changed. The NRA has 2,463,000 ‘likes,’ the Sandy Hook Promise organization has 60,000. Glock’s Facebook page is liked by 567,000, Mayor Bloomberg with his billions has found some way to register a whopping 18,000, Remington has 870,000 and the Brady Campaign, which has been around since before the 1994 debate, has amassed a grand total of 57,000. If we use Facebook to estimate grass-roots support for pro versus anti-gun positions, the gun folks outnumber their opponents by 10 to 1.
The Facebook connections made by gun people are so much higher than the anti-gun Facebook connections that we appear to be playing in different arenas. Perhaps we are. What usually goes unmentioned when we talk about guns is understanding the real motivation of gun owners. Maybe they are hunters, maybe they are target shooters, or maybe they really believe that a gun will protect them from crime. But in most cases gun owners are hobbyists and their hobby is guns. They think about guns, they buy guns, they trade guns. Don’t believe me? Walk around a gun show and you could be walking around a ham radio show, a model train show, or a computer show.
Guns are a lot more important to people who own them than to people who don’t. That’s why people who don’t own guns join gun control Facebook pages in much smaller numbers because the passion and the interest just isn’t there. They’ll tell a telephone pollster that they support background checks, but they’re not going to lose any sleep if the law isn’t changed. The fact that some young kids get murdered by a “nut” who gets his hands on a gun just doesn’t support the idea that a lawful hobby should all of a sudden become more difficult to pursue.
In the age of digital communication it doesn’t take much to secure a presence in the public debate. All you need is a URL, a website, Facebook page and Twitter account and you’re good to go. An organization called Moms Rising recently brought 5 groups together on their blog to issue statements about gun violence, including the Children’s Defense Fund whose President, Marian Wright Edelman, is one of my personal heroes. Together the Facebook pages of these 5 groups total slightly more than 100,000 supporters and this number probably represents numerous duplicates. The NRA is just shy of 2.5 million. That’s a joke, and not a funny joke.
People who want to see less gun violence aren’t going to get there by reminding gun owners to lock away their guns. It’s not about websites or t-shirts or leading a seminar at the Aspen Institute. It’s the tough, hard job of going into one inner-city classroom again and again to talk to 30 kids about staying away from guns. I’m going to start doing it in September and if I can save one life by making these 30 kids think about gun violence every time I stand in front of the class, then I’ve done something that all the talk, all the organizational activity and all the world’s great opinion-makers and influencers have been unable to do.
- Marian Wright Edelman: That Gun Changed Our Lives Forever (huffingtonpost.com)
- NRA’s Poster Children: Chicago and DC Are Convenient for Biased Statistics (1800politics.com)