February 16, 2018

The Gun Debate Is About To Escalate

Events are lining up for a perfect storm in Washington

by Chris Thomas

Photo by Clinton Naik

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida this week kicks off the usual American political cycle where gun violence is concerned.

Politicians will tweet out that their “thoughts and prayers” are with the victims.

A bunch of bills will be proposed as ham-handed solutions to the problem. They’ll go nowhere. The left will be admonished for daring to bring up the subject of gun control after poorly controlled guns were used to murder a bunch of kids.

News media will note that the overwhelming majority of Americans back stricter, and universal background checks for buying guns and will puzzle over why we don’t have stricter and universal background checks for buying guns as if the NRA’s outsized influence in American politics isn’t a well known fact.

The Onion will, as The Onion does, republish the same “No Way To Prevent This, Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens” article it publishes after every major shooting.

While none of that is going to change, some things are different about the political realities surrounding the Parkland Shooting and they’re going to shape the gun control debate over the coming year.

“Assault Weapons”

Shootings like this typically result in a call for an “assault weapons ban” but Assault Weapons are a cosmetic distinction. Assault Rifles are among the kinds of firearms that the military favors for urban combat. Assault Rifles are military weapons. Assault Weapons are military style weapons — the word “style” there meaning that they look like but do not function like a military firearm. This make banning them somewhat comical, especially to those in the firearms community.

The AR-15 is among the most popular assault weapons on the market today. It’s also the Barbie Doll of the American firearms enthusiast: endlessly accessorizable, customizable, and fetishizeable but, critically, in function it is no different than a standard, semi-automatic hunting rifle.

The Parkland shooter* used an AR-15 and that means we’re likely to plunge back into the “Assault Weapons Ban” conversation with a focus on the AR-15. While the AR-15 has been the assault weapon of choice for mass shootings as of late, that too is a matter of style over substance. This is not a distinction the gun-control wing of the Democratic party seems to much care about or understand, so expect to see it rehashed in the media again.

Remington

As long as President Obama was in office, gun sales were through the roof. Research shows that while there are more than enough guns in the United States to arm every man, woman, and child, the vast majority of them are held by a small number of firearms hoarders. Spikes in firearms sales after shootings and the election of Democratic presidents suggest that many firearm purchases are motivated by the fear that future purchases may be banned.

Image via New York Times

With President Trump in the White House, however, there’s little for the NRA to really fear. Trump’s party and Trump’s base within that party are solidly on the “pro-gun” side of the fence, so much so that Trump has relaxed restrictions on the purchase of firearms by the mentally ill.

But with the assurance that future sales won’t be banned comes a problem for the gun manufacturers who fund the NRA. No one is buying their guns. Remington posted a \$28 million operating loss last year and, earlier this week, filed for bankruptcy.

The firearms industry needs a liberal bogeyman to terrify their customers into a shopping spree. Without it, demand collapses. Firearms are, after all, durable objects and humans have but two hands. Once the major use-cases are filled, the incentive for a gun-owner to continue purchasing new firearms falls off quickly.

The NRA is going to throw gasoline on the fire of whatever gun control debate breaks out in Washington following the Parkland shooting. Remington alone has 28,000,000 reasons to do so.

The Blue Wave

Republicans see the writing on the wall. President Trump is massively unpopular among Democrats and independents and the midterm elections traditionally go badly for the party in power even when the White House isn’t a non-stop parade of breathtaking malfeasance. Polls right now show a nearly 10 point advantage for Democrats in a generic poll and the special elections and bellwether races in Virginia, Alabama, and Florida all indicate that the GOP is going to have a bad time in the fall.

As the GOP’s base of older, white, rural, less-educated voters dwindles demographically, the party relies more and more on the mobilization of a highly responsive base. Gun rights and the NRA play a major role in that mobilization effort.

This shooting and the left’s response to it will shape the narrative that the NRA uses to get its members to the polls. More accurately, the most extreme and least credible things uttered by anyone with a “(D)” after their name will inform that narrative. Consequently, watch for Republican candidates trying to bait their Democratic opponents into hyperbolic statements. Likewise, watch for smart Democratic politicians who may choose silence over comments which, though pleasing to the Democratic base, would play into the NRA’s hands.

Tell Congress What You Think

Of course all of this amounts to little more than political posturing. The GOP isn’t going to pass laws which upset their base and push away the NRA and its deep pockets. Democrats might like to change American gun laws but, even if they sweep the races in 2018, a Presidential veto still awaits any attempt to do so. Nonetheless, if you want your Representatives and Senators to know what you think about guns and gun violence, you can start by texting RESIST to 50409. Or, if SMS isn’t your style, you can contact your government by talking to Resistbot on Facebook Messenger, Telegram, or Twitter.

Footnotes

* In an exercise in responsible journalism, Resistbot refuses to publish the name of the shooter. This is not to protect him but to deny him the fame and attention that many mass shooters crave.

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