Signs of hope amidst the horror

Signs of hope amidst the horror

- in Top Story, Weekly Briefing
Vigil following Parkland School Shooting (Photo by: Fabrice Florin
is licensed under Creative Commons.)

Cracks are forming in the NRA’s death grip on American politics

At some point, it’s going to happen.

At some point in the not-too-distant future, shifting attitudes in the American body politic will reach a tipping point and the death grip that the gun lobby has on our government will begin to ease and, perhaps, even collapse. It’s not likely to happen right away or be pretty or pleasant – thousands more children, women and men will have to die unnecessarily and prematurely – but, it’s definitely going to happen.

The signs of this gradual change have been visible for some time and are garnering renewed attention in the aftermath of last week’s latest mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Here are five that stand out:

#1 – A growing lack of fear amongst advocates for stronger laws and regulations – For many years – decades really – American supporters of sane gun laws have operated in a meek and fearful posture with an air of defeated resignation.

Part of this has no doubt been the result of repeated legislative defeats; it’s hard to embrace or project an air of chesty self-confidence when you’re banging your head against a wall every day. But another part is clearly attributable to the power dynamics that one would expect when advocates on one side of a debate are driven by a commitment to nonviolence and disarmament and many on the other side are prone to the use of loud, hostile and even apocalyptic language to lift up their devotion to killing machines.

Simply put: it can be frightening to be an advocate for gun control. One will, in all likelihood, be the target of intimidation tactics (name calling, hate mail, threatening social media posts) pursued by people who love weapons and own lots of them. And if you’re a politician, you can almost count on having boatloads of cash spent against you in an effort to ruin your reputation. Here in North Carolina, pro-gun groups have even gone so far as to hold “target practice fundraisers” in which the images of disfavored politicians have been affixed to shooting range targets. Even journalists who merely report on the issue have been targeted.

In recent months, however, one gets the sense that the bullying tactics employed by gun zealots are starting to lose their zip. Maybe it’s the relative safety in numbers that more and more gun control advocates are sensing is out there. Maybe it’s the simple anger and outrage that so many people currently feel that has driven them to say, in effect, “the hell with it; I’m not going to be afraid anymore.” And maybe it’s the shame of parents who realize they have neglected their children’s safety for too long. Whatever it is, things are different today than they were a year or two ago and it feels like it’s going to stay this way.

#2 – The children will lead – Speaking of parents and children, it must be noted that last week’s horror has spurred a remarkable and heartening burst of energy from young people across the country. These kids know little of and care less about the bullies in the gun lobby. All they know is that they don’t want their schools to be the next Columbine, Sandy Hook or Stoneman Douglas and they’re going to speak up and tell the adults of the country to do something about the problem.

As a weekend New York Times story reported, surviving students in Parkland, Florida have not been hesitant to call out politicians and demand sane gun control. Some started a Facebook page entitled #NEVERAGAIN that already has more than 72,000 “likes.” Meanwhile, plans for a nationwide student walkout/protest on March 14 are gathering momentum.

Here in the Triangle, teenagers and adults will gather at Pullen Memorial Baptist at 5:00 p.m. this afternoon for a time of remembrance and action. Participants will light candles for each life lost in the massacre last week. After a time of remembrance, the group will march with those candles down Hillsborough Street to the Capitol building demanding safer schools through gun safety legislation.

#3 – Subtle changes amongst politicians – While it’s not at all surprising that they’re following rather than leading, one even senses a developing attitude shift amongst politicians. A recent story found pro-NRA lawmakers on Capitol Hill notably tightlipped and evasive at the end of last week, while supporters of gun safety laws were clearly feeling emboldened to speak out and take action. Meanwhile, Vermont’s Republican governor has announced that he is rethinking his opposition to stronger gun regulations.

Here in North Carolina, a similar pattern is evident. See, for example, the announcement of State Rep. Marcia Morey of Durham that she will introduce legislation to allow the issuance of gun violence restraining orders, the chirping cricket silence of top NRA campaign cash recipients Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, and the announcement of pro-NRA House Speaker Tim Moore that he will convene an advisory panel to examine school safety matters. Even the reliably outrageous State Rep. Larry Pittman felt compelled to kind of/sort of walk back his insane claim that “communist Democrats” were responsible for the shooting.

#4 – Energetic behind the scenes work – While the mountainous financial advantage possessed by the NRA and gun manufacturers for pushing propaganda and political campaigns remains formidable, gun safety advocates have started to make a dent in this advantage. This effort has been helped tremendously in recent years by the infusions of cash provided by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action organization(s) have added a great infusion of professionalism and energy to the cause.

Along with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and a variety of local groups like North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, the Bloomberg groups are making a real difference in empowering citizen activists.

 #5 – Our maturing society – If there’s a most hopeful long-term sign for the American gun control movement, however, it might just be the attitude transformation that seems to be overtaking our increasingly urbanized and diverse nation with respect to any number of important social issues.

The Washington Post recently reported that, despite the frenzy in gun purchase fomented by the far Right during the Obama years, a lower percentage of Americans own guns today than they have at almost any point in the last four decades. Today, just over a third of Americans (36 percent) own guns. In 1978, more than half (51 percent) did. Recently, in fact, a well-known North Carolina-based arms manufacturer was forced to declare bankruptcy in light of plummeting sales.

And, of course, there are other social issues in which we see similar progress – most notably the fight for LGBT equality and the #MeToo movement against sexual violence and harassment. In both of these areas, progress that would have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago is now occurring suddenly and rapidly across the nation as people who have long cowered in the corner are now finding their voices and standing up for their basic human rights.

All of these causes, of course, are greatly abetted by the anger that arises every day as a result of the maddeningly ignorant stances and statements of a deeply unpopular U.S. president who continues to position himself on the wrong side of history on virtually every important public issue.

The bottom line

As dreary and frightening as the current national political scene appears today in the aftermath of last week’s events, there are important signs that we are closer to a positive national tipping point on gun violence than we have been in decades. Caring and thinking people would do well to stay engaged and keep the faith.

About the author

Rob Schofield, Director of NC Policy Watch, has three decades of experience as a lawyer, lobbyist, writer and commentator. At Policy Watch, Rob writes and edits daily online commentaries and handles numerous public speaking and electronic media appearances. He also delivers a radio commentary that’s broadcast weekdays on WRAL-FM and WCHL and hosts News and Views, a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.