Want To Message About Gun Violence? Do’t Forget The Gun.

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Following the October, 2015 mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, MoveOn.org announced a petition drive asking gun-owning members of the organization to ‘push for common-sense gun control measures;’ an activity which netted support from more  than 32,000 gun-owning MoveOn members within one month.  Practically speaking, the petition went nowhere, but at least it demonstrated that not every politically-minded gun guy supports the NRA.

ruger             And this is good news for the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement, because it runs counter to the usual assumption that the basic fault line dividing Gun-nut Nation from Gun-sense Nation is the ownership of guns.  Not that 32,000 gun-owning MoveOn members compares to the alleged 4 million gun-toters who line up for NRA.  But it’s enough of a base to convince other MoveOn members to get involved, which can’t but help grow the strength of the mainline gun-sense organizations like Shannon’s Moms, Everytown, Violence Policy Center, and the Brady Campaign.

I’m not optimistic about the chances of national gun regulations moving forward in the Age of Trump, but if The Donald gets on his high horse and starts ranting about the 2nd Amendment (a subject that has yielded a curious silence from the 26th Floor of since he ended his campaign,) there’s nothing that gets the opposition more worked up than being able to identify a threat from the other side.  But if Gun-sense Nation wants to mobilize a wider swath of active supporters, particularly folks who largely sit on the sidelines today, they are going to have to come up with a message that reaches beyond simply reminding people about the number of people killed with guns.

And this is where the activities of public service organizations like MADD and the anti-smoking groups aren’t such a good fit. Because everyone drives a car and everyone knows someone else who smokes.  But as an important article published today in The Trace points out, even in cities with high (and increasing) gun-violence rates, like Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Lou, there are many neighborhoods where gun violence remains at historically low levels, and it’s in these more affluent areas, both within the cities and the suburbs, where folks who need to be motivated about gun violence tend to live.

So coming up with a message to which people not directly affected by gun violence will understand is not such a simple or obvious thing. And if the GVP community thinks they can adopt or own a phrase that promotes ‘responsible’ gun ownership, the gun industry itself has been using that exact messaging for over thirty years, and I know they have no interest in sharing idea with the other side. Now I’m not talking about the NRA’s phony Eddie Eagle safety campaign whose effectiveness has never (read: never) been evaluated at all.  I’m talking about the gun industry itself and the basic message that has been promoted by the world’s largest manufacturer of small arms – Sturm, Ruger & Co. – for the last thirty years.

Back in the 1980s, America’s most iconic gun designer, Bill Ruger, adopted the slogan ‘Gun Makers For Responsible Citizens’ to go with the unique heraldic eagle logo that had originally been designed by his partner, Alexander Sturm.  Ruger considered himself a designer and manufacturer of sporting arms, his first hunting rifle to incorporate military-style engineering, the Mini-14, shipped from the factory with a 5-shot mag. In the run-up to the 1994 assault weapons ban, Ruger endorsed not a gun ban but a ban on hi-cap mags, a stance he then quietly abandoned when talk about a company boycott started to spread around.

In recent years, Sturm, Ruger has moved into promoting small, concealable hi-caliber pistols, a product shift which gives GVP an opportunity to push its own definition of responsible gun ownership focusing not on the behavior of gun owners but on the guns themselves.  A 9mm pistol no bigger than a droid simply isn’t a sporting arm. And that’s what causes gun violence – it’s the gun, stupid, it’s the gun.


Wal Mart Stops Selling ARs Because They Just Aren’t Modern Sporting Guns.


The bubble has finally burst.  Wal Mart has announced that they will stop selling AR-15 rifles as they make way for their Fall hunting line thats reflect what the company referred to as “hunting-driven Fall product mix.”  The company also confirmed that black gun sales have lagged behind sales of cheaper guns and rejected the idea that the decision was anything other than an inventory correction due to seasonal changes in consumer demand.

bushmaster logo2                Hey – wait a minute!  I thought the whole point of buying an AR was because it was a hunting rifle. After all, wasn’t it the NSSF that launched a whole campaign based on the idea that the AR wasn’t a military weapon but was something called a ‘modern sporting rifle?’  And wasn’t the whole point of the modern sporting rifle to peddle the idea that the AR was nothing other than a dumbed-down version of the military gun which could be enjoyed for sport hunting just like any other sporting gun?

The truth is that calling the AR a ‘sporting rifle’ is nothing but a complete and conscious lie.  What’s sporting about a gun that can fire 40 rounds of military-grade ammo as quickly as you can pull a trigger 40 times?  What’s sporting about a gun whose design allows you to tape two mags together, pull one out, reverse and insert the other and get off another 40 rounds in a few seconds more?  And what’s sporting about a rifle which, in the same, semi-auto version, is carried by our military in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t believe that the issue of gun violence rests on whether civilians can buy or own military-style guns.  I own both an AR and an AK, I have hi-cap magazines for both, the mis-use of such weapons accounts for a tiny percentage of the people who are killed and wounded each year by guns.  My problem with the promotional crap around the gun is that it’s just another way in which the industry tries to convince current and potential customers that a gun is a necessary and effective way for self-defense against crime.  Companies that sell AR rifles, Bushmaster, Smith & Wesson and Stag, go out of their way to blur the line between sporting and tactical, the latter a polite way of saying that guns can be used to kill people as opposed to various four-legged creatures wandering around in the woods.

The funny thing about Wal Mart’s decision to yank black guns is that the company recently won a court case which, had they lost, would have probably meant the end of AR sales after all. The country’s largest retailer was taken to Federal Court by one of its shareholders, New York’s Trinity Church, who wanted the right to let the Board decide whether they were selling any products that could cause harm to the community and therefore negatively impact the value of company stock.  Wal Mart had also previously been pressured by Shannon Watts and the Moms to take guns off their shelves.

It’s one thing to get a company like Starbucks to request that customers forego bringing guns into their cafes; after all, when you sell a cup of boiled water with a little taste of coffee beans for three bucks, you’re not usually catering to the gun-owning crowd.  But what could be more American, more traditional values, more Main Street than a Wal Mart store? A few years ago I drove Route 2 all the way across North Dakota and Montana and there was a Wal Mart in every third town. You can’t tell me that the average shopper in those stores cared one whit about whether an AR would be used for sporting or anything else.

Here’s the bottom line on Wal Mart’s decision to yank black guns out of their stores.  It’s not as if they’ll bring them back once hunting season comes to an end.  And as far as I’m concerned, it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of guns.

Thanks To The 9Th Circuit, Sunnyvale Continues To Be A Hi-Cap Mag-Free Town.

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This week’s decision by the Ninth Circuit upholding the ban on high-capacity magazines in Sunnyvale, CA, is another post-Heller indication of the way in which most Courts will decide 2nd Amendment cases going forward.  Because on the one hand the notion that Americans have the right to defend themselves with guns now appears to be a cornerstone of jurisprudence about gun ownership.  On the other hand, there is yet to be a decision which questions the ability of governments at the state and local level to regulate both the determination as to the fitness of individuals to own guns, as well as regulating the types of weapons that can be used.

The Sunnyvale case is different from other magazine-capacity laws recently passed in Connecticut and New York, for example, because it not only bans the sale or transfer of magazine with capacities in excess of 10 rounds, but also requires residents who own such magazines to get rid of them altogether, either by removing them beyond the city’s limits, turning them into the police or transferring them to a gunsmith.  In other words, this law, known as Measure C, effectively makes Sunnyvale a hi-capacity magazine-free town.  And similar ordinances appear to be going forward in other California jurisdictions, including Los Angeles.

mags                These laws are anathema to the NRA and the pro-gun community for two reasons.  First, they represent a growing trend to move the issue of gun control away from Washington, DC and focus gun-control activism at the state and local levels.  And while the NRA has no equal at the national lobbying level, gun ownership becomes a vulnerable status in states where a majority of residents don’t own guns.  This was clearly demonstrated in last year’s re-election of Connecticut’s Governor, Dannell Malloy, whose support of a restrictive, post-Sandy Hook gun law may have given his campaign a boost in the polls. The gun law pushed through the state legislature by Andy Cuomo also proved to be a non-issue in his re-election last year.

The other problem facing the pro-gun crowd has to do not with the specific rulings per se, but rather the degree of scrutiny that appears to be applied in just about every gun case that reaches the appellate level.  Increasingly, Circuit courts are basing their review of lower-court decisions using ‘intermediate’ scrutiny, rather than the ‘strict’ scrutiny that the gun-owning community would prefer.  And what is important about this trend is that it is based on the notion, explicitly stated in the Sunnyvale decision, that the law being reviewed reflect “government’s stated objective to be significant, substantial, or important,” which Sunnyvale was able to prove based on its responsibilities to promote public safety.

The problem for the gun folks in this respect is that this approach completely undercuts one of the most cherished notions of current pro-gun arguments, namely, that ownership of a gun is the surest way to make us safe.  This has been the mantra of the gun industry ever since the decline in hunting required a new rationale for buying guns, and it is now believed by a majority of Americans whether they own guns or not. But the good news about the American judicial system is that, by and large, jurists don’t usually base their decisions on public-opinion polls.  And to the extent that one of government’s fundamental responsibilities remains securing law and order, the primacy of individual citizens to protect themselves, pace the 2nd Amendment, cannot be sustained.

The 9th Circuit ventured directly into this issue by noting that the NRA indicated that most defensive shootings required the crime-stopping shooter to bang off only one or two rounds.  I can’t find the link to this report but if it was quoted accurately, it’s a great irony that the NRA finds itself unable to justify the ownership of hi-cap magazines based on its own research into the use of guns for self-defense.  Maybe localities considering banning hi-cap mags should also bring in the NRA to testify on their behalf.