Frustrated by gridlock in Congress and unable to win over public opinion regarding the curtailment of one of America’s oldest civil rights, anti-gun activists have decided to take their fight to your local neighborhood. For a movement that’s virtually stalled since Columbine, anti-gun activists are trying to model after the success of the gay marriage movement, which has won repeatedly at the state-level and in the courts. After all, that seems to be the only option left for these folks since their candidates got shellacked in the 2014 elections (via NYT):
The new focus on ballot initiatives comes after setbacks in Congress and in statehouses. After the 2012 mass shooting of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., President Obama’s effort to pass a background-check measure never got out of the Democratic-controlled Senate. Although 10 states have passed major gun control legislation, not only in Connecticut and New York but also as far away as Colorado, more states have loosened gun restrictions.
Candidates who backed gun control mostly lost in the midterm elections, even after groups spent millions on their behalf. The last setback came in December when Martha McSally, a Republican, prevailed in a razor-thin recount over Representative Ron Barber, Democrat of Arizona. Mr. Barber was wounded in the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, and lost even though Ms. Giffords’s PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions, spent more than $2 million in the race.
Gun control groups say that although they are still dwarfed by the N.R.A., they have more money and are involved in more grass-roots activism than ever before. The N.R.A. was even heavily outspent in the Washington State referendum.
The advocacy groups have recast their cause as a public health and safety movement, and are homing in on areas where polling has shown voter support, like expanded background checks and keeping guns out of the hands of people with domestic violence convictions, restraining orders or mental illnesses.
The same-sex marriage movement has been a model for advocates of new gun restrictions. As with gay marriage, background-check expansions enjoy far broader public support in polls than among elected officials, and they affect state residents immediately.
“The arc of the marriage-equality movement started in the federal government, and got them the Defense of Marriage Act,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun control group backed by Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City. “Then they went to the states and showed that if you can get the majority of the public on your side state by state, that will influence the courts and Congress in the end.”
Yet, that “arc” that Mr. Feinblatt mentions is trending in the opposite direction on precisely every battlefield. The courts have mostly ruled in favor of Second Amendment rights, even in courts that aren’t historically known to be friendly to conservative causes. Public opinion is in our favor; the majority of state legislatures are Republican. Republicans control two-thirds of all the governorships, with almost half the population living in states where the GOP is in total control at the state-level.
Data refutes the incredibly irritating narrative of a gun violence epidemic. Gun-related homicides are down, violent crime is down,mass shootings aren’t on the rise, and school shootings haven't risen past levels in the mid-1990s. This isn’t fertile ground for anti-gun advocacy.
The anti-gun crowd did have some victories. The two gun rights legislators that replaced the two pro-gun control state senators in Colorado’s 2013 recall election lost last November. But, let’s not forget that the coalition that booted these pro-gun control lawmakers in September of 2013 was comprised of Hispanics, women, and blue-collar workers. That’s not necessarily a deep-red conservative Republican voting bloc; support for the Second Amendment has wide appeal across a multitude of demographics. You can’t say the same for the gun control movement, whose base of support is primarily urban, liberal, and in the Northeast.
I guess that’s why the National Rifle Association had a 91.2 percent success rate regarding House and Senate races they participated in this past election cycle (via Washington Examiner):
In its best election in over a decade, the National Rifle Association scored a 91.2 percent win rate in the House and Senate races it jumped into, and also found the bull’s-eye in state races, according to the Second Amendment group.
“Our members came out in droves and voted for their rights and their freedom,” NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam told Secrets. “This was one of the most successful election cycles in a decade,” he added.
Overall, the Northern Virginia-based lobby and education group spent about $35 million, more than in many past elections, and saw 229 of 251 candidates endorsed by the NRA and its NRA-Political Victory Fund win.
The independent Sunlight Foundation gave the NRA a 95 percent “return on investment.” By comparison, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who spent $20 million to crush pro-gun candidates, “got walloped," added Sunlight.
However, there could be some common ground with the gun control folks over mental health. Both sides agree that those who are mentally unstable should not have access to firearms; there’s a federal law against it as well. I would say that there could be a debate regarding the use of social media.
Taking an example from the horrific UCSB shooting, if someone takes to social media and makes posts threatening mass slaughter and mayhem, and it’s reported to the authorities, then the police officers tasked with investigating should be allowed to ask the person of interest if they have firearms. If the person of interest says yes, then–one might argue–officers should be able to take those weapons until a psychological evaluation is made.
It’s not normal for one to post death threats on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.
Yet, it’s hard to reconcile who’s mentally fit with a regular criminal background check since mental health is almost exclusively in the medical realm, making getting around doctor-patient confidentiality legally tricky. The federal government cannot compel states to report on mental health, but it can incentivize states by giving them–or withholding–additional funds a la the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984; states that kept their laws for “purchasing or publicly possessing alcoholic beverages” under the age of 21 got a 10 percent cut in their highways funds.
I don’t like the idea of people’s firearms being taken away–and there’s no doubt that in states where liberal sentiments are dominant that policing of social media can be abused.
Yet, there are cases when such action could’ve saved lives. The UCSB shooter, Elliot Rodger, who was disturbed from a young age, is a prime example. Authorities checked in on him due to his disturbing writings, but since he wasn’t checked into a mental health facility, or his condition adjudicated by a family member, his gun purchases were approved. It doesn’t help that California is ranked as one of the worst states concerning civil commitment laws relating to mental illness.
This is the issue. Both sides recognize it, but it seems it’s always the gun control end of the table that wants to view this on the periphery. They’re still obsessed with the gun itself and access. If Rodger, or any of the perpetrators in the past 62 mass shootings where mental illness was "rampant" were properly documented, things would have been different for everyone.
Rebuilding America’s mental health system, which isn’t in good shape, will take time– and neither side can do it alone.