The gun-control movement is in the middle of yet another “rebranding” effort. As Dana Milbank of the Washington Postput it, “Gone is the notion of ‘gun control,’ replaced by ‘reducing gun deaths’ or ‘gun violence prevention.’ Gone, for now, are efforts to restrict any type of gun or ammunition,” he wrote. “Instead, the movement has found a laser focus on background checks.”
What Milbank doesn’t realize, or doesn’t want to acknowledge, is that none of this is new. The gun-control movement has rebranded itself several times. In fact, Milbank’s piece highlights the Brady Campaign To End Gun Violence without ever mentioning the fact that the organization has had several names, including the National Council to Control Handguns and Handgun Control Inc. (it didn’t formally become the Brady Campaign until 2001). Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, the stated goal was to ban the possession of handguns, and the movement saw success in Washington, D.C., and a few years later in Chicago. Voters, however, rejected bans on the ownership or sales of handguns in statewide votes in both Massachusetts and California, and soon after the movement began shifting away from calling for outright bans on handguns (while still supporting bans already in place) in favor of more “modest” goals.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Brady Campaign renewed its push for a gun ban, only this time instead of handguns the group went after long guns they themselves designated as “assault weapons”. As the decade-long Clinton Gun Ban was set to expire in 2004, supporters in the gun-control movement couldn't point to any real public push to extend the ban. After the murders in Newtown in 2012, President Barack Obama called for a permanent ban on semi-automatic rifles, but couldn’t get his bill through Congress. The gun-control movement once again retreated into a position where supporters still support the ban in principle, but don’t want to make it a legislative priority. That will last until they once again believe they can get a ban through Congress.
In truth, the movement has been rebranding itself for the past 30 years, constantly shifting its legislative focus on what seems to be polling best, recycling through a laundry list of “approaches” (the “public health approach,” the “reducing violent crime approach,” the “gun safety approach”) while remaining faithful to the movement’s core dogmatic belief: More guns means more crime. Even as crime rates fell beginning in the mid-1990s, the movement’s faith in that mantra remained strong. Today, activists and politicians in the movement can declare in the same breath that they’re not anti-gun, we have too many guns in this country, we should take a cue from Australia (where guns were banned and owners were told to turn them in), but how dare you suggest they want to take guns away.It’s not a “gun safety” movement. It’s not even a “gun-control” movement. It’s an anti-gun movement.
It’s not a “gun safety” movement. It’s not even a “gun-control” movement. It’s an anti-gun movement. It always has been, and it always will be. The anti-gun activists and politicians continue to believe that the Supreme Court wrongly decided the Heller case. They think you don’t have a right to own a firearm. Hillary Clinton told a group of donors in New York back in October that the “Supreme Court is wrong on the Second Amendment.” Not a single reporter covering the Clinton campaign has bothered to ask her to elaborate on this. It sounds to me like she doesn’t believe there’s an individual right to keep and bear arms, since that’s what the Court held in Heller. Or maybe she believes you have a right to keep and bear arms, but it’s not an infringement of that right to ban your possession of a handgun, or to keep it locked up in such a way that it’s likely to be inaccessible for the purposes of self-defense. Unless she’s asked these questions, I doubt she’ll volunteer her opinion. The answer wouldn’t fit in with the current rebranding of “common-sense gun safety rules.”
The anti-gun movement’s policy goals have become untethered from its arguments, which is exhibited most callously when anti-gun groups use tragedy to call for laws that, had they been in place, would not have prevented the deaths they exploit. Erika Soto Lamb of Everytown for Gun Safety, for instance, told the Huffington Post just hours after the horrific on-camera murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward in Roanoke, Va.: “We’ve previously lamented not having our own ‘Eric Garner video’ that really shows Americans how gun violence is affecting all of us. This unfortunate tragedy provides us that opportunity to widen the conversation and call for action.”
Again, the “action” that they would ostensibly take is to require background checks for all firearm transfers, even though the murderer in the Roanoke killings passed a background check. The action that the anti-gun movement really wants, however, is for more Americans to become anti-gun like them. The goal hasn’t changed—even if the tired old messaging gets a facelift on a regular basis.