From the Chronicle of Higher Education


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Legionnaire
October 11, 2006, 09:23 AM
http://chronicle.com/daily/2006/10/2006101105n.htm
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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Opinion: The Missing Movement for Gun Control
By KRISTIN A. GOSS


After the mass shooting of Amish schoolgirls in idyllic Lancaster County, anguished Pennsylvanians grappled with a question that has preoccupied Americans for decades: Will we ever get real gun control here?

Less than a week before the massacre, in which a 32-year-old milk-truck driver bound and executed five children and seriously injured five more, the state legislature had met in special session to consider a raft of crime-control bills, including a measure that would have limited sales of handguns to one per month per person. The measure failed, even though an estimated 2,000 people had marched on Harrisburg to demand its passage.

As Pennsylvania gun-control supporters mourn their losses -- of legislation and of life -- there is a glimmer of hopeful news for their fellow advocates nationwide: This time, at least, citizens showed up to demand action on guns.

In the postwar era, America has witnessed firearms-related horrors with numbing regularity: mass murders of children in otherwise peaceful schools, workplace massacres, homicide "epidemics" in urban neighborhoods, and sensational assassinations of beloved leaders. And while these episodes typically provoke a momentary outcry from frightened and angry citizens, none of those events has managed to spark an organized, sustained, grass-roots movement for stricter gun laws. Why?

The easy answer requires only three familiar letters: N-R-A. With four million members, the National Rifle Association enjoys a well-deserved reputation of invincibility. When Fortune magazine surveys Washington insiders about the most influential interest groups, the NRA routinely ranks at or near the top of the list. When scholars study the gun issue, whatever the question, the answer is inevitably "the mighty NRA." Those observers are not misguided: The NRA is strong and effective. In an era of declining political participation, it has done a spectacular job of mobilizing its members, and it has won more political battles than it has lost.

But scholars' single-minded focus on the 1.9 percent of American adults who belong to the NRA misses another critical group: the 98.1 percent of Americans who do not. Surveys show that, unlike the NRA, most Americans -- including, in some cases, most gun owners -- support modest restrictions on firearms access, such as mandatory training and licensing of handgun owners and the registration of handguns. So where is this silent majority of gun-control supporters? The answer is: out there, angry, and largely unorganized. Where is the serious research on this curiously unorganized majority? It's largely missing.

The absence of any real gun-control movement, or scholarship thereon, is puzzling in light of the nation's dismal history of gun-related trauma. In any given year, roughly 30,000 Americans die by gunfire, putting the U.S. gun-death rate at 30 times that of Britain's. Fully one-third of U.S. presidents since the Civil War -- as well as entertainers, political leaders, and other prominent Americans -- have been assassinated or threatened by assailants with guns. Roughly one in three American adults reports that someone close to him or her -- such as a friend or relative -- has been shot. Polls going back more than three decades have found that about 20 percent of Americans have been threatened by a gun or shot at. And about once a decade, the United States suffers an "epidemic" of gun violence. Even in calmer years, the nation witnesses regular "rampage shootings" in workplaces and schools.

What accounts for the missing movement for gun control in America? The answer isn't simple, but three explanations dwarf all others. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the NRA isn't one of them -- though it does play a role in each. Nor do the oft-cited explanations suffice: Americans are enraptured by the Second Amendment; white people don't care about gun violence because it's a "black problem"; people are satisfied with the gun laws in their state; or gun-control sympathizers are apathetic, figuring someone else will take care of the problem.

The real reason the gun-control movement has been, at best, a movement constrained boils down to three factors: a historical shift in patterns of financial support that works against controversial reform movements; the failure by gun-control leaders to develop a message that would inspire everyday Americans; and the adoption of policy goals and organizational strategies that sought a quick fix from Washington, rather than a slower but potentially more influential groundswell from the grass roots.

First, let us examine the resource question. A century ago, a movement for gun control almost certainly would have been led by women's reform organizations, possibly in concert with Protestant churches. Indeed, when Congress considered the first federal firearms legislation, in the 1930s, women's clubs were its principal lobbyists. For much of American history, federated voluntary associations of women and churchgoers provided money, volunteers, and leadership to reform movements. But by the late 20th century, reform movements started relying on different sources of support, notably professionally staffed philanthropic foundations and government bureaucracies.

Why did that shift matter for the gun-control cause? Foundations consider themselves risk takers but live in constant fear of inciting increased regulation; thus, they tend to shy away from politically controversial causes. Foundations also like to support "root cause" approaches to problems, even if regulatory policies might do more good. Finally, foundations face restrictions on the sorts of advocacy they can support. With a few exceptions -- notably the Joyce Foundation and George Soros's Open Society Institute -- very little foundation money has flowed to gun-control groups.

From the early 1970s through the early 1990s, at least three government agencies did begin to engage in the debate over gun control -- for example, by collecting authoritative data on gun violence, working to make gun violence a greater agency priority, and giving grants to scholars studying the causes and consequences of gun availability. But officials in those agencies -- the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms -- quickly learned their lesson. Under pressure from the NRA, Congress either cut their budgets for gun-related activities, restricted their freedom to set agency priorities, or sent the message that supporting gun-violence prevention would cost civil servants their jobs, or all three. With traditional patrons no longer available and new patrons under attack, the gun-control cause floundered.

The message also mattered. The NRA and other gun-rights groups had powerful symbolism on their side. They could quote the Constitution, as well as invoke timeless American values of rugged individualism and suspicion of government. Of course, many movements in American history have managed to find the language to prevail against such "all American" arguments. Prohibitionists rooted in women's and church groups, for example, persuaded two-thirds of Congress and three-quarters of state legislatures to outlaw a popular consumer product with a powerful political base.

What the movement against alcohol, as well as the movements against abortion and tobacco, managed to do that the movement for gun control didn't -- at least until recently -- was figure out a message that would trump the classical liberal assumption that liberty is paramount. That message: Regulating liberty is necessary to protect children. The gun-control forces didn't embrace such maternalistic rhetoric until 2000, when a coterie of suburban women organized the massive Million Mom March in Washington and nearly 70 cities around the country.

The third, and perhaps most important, reason for the "missing movement" is that its leaders did not, and in some cases could not, pursue strategies conducive to mass mobilization. In the mid-1970s, when gun control started to coalesce as a nationwide cause, leaders in Washington dedicated themselves to a lofty goal: a federal ban on handguns. That "rational, national" strategy seemed to make sense in an era when federal-government responsibility was expanding and so was gun violence. Gun-control leaders reasoned that only a loophole-free, nation-spanning law would keep guns from flowing into the wrong hands.

While the rational, national strategy was grounded in policy logic, it was politically shortsighted and hurt the gun-control campaign for decades to come. For one, because Congress was the only target of early gun-control leaders, they decided they did not need to create or nurture state and local gun-control organizations when a flurry of letters from outraged individuals in key Congressional districts would suffice. In a sense, then, no gun-control movement emerged because national strategists decided not to build one.

The bold decision to seek a ban on handguns also stifled the incipient movement. While the majority of Americans have always supported strict gun laws, they have never favored a ban. So from the start, the handgun-control "movement" alienated millions of its potential foot soldiers. In addition, because America's fragmented political system favors incremental policy making, comprehensive proposals typically fail; when they fail over and over again, as the handgun-ban gambits did, activists grow discouraged, and movements founder. What is more, while Congressional legislation may serve as an important goal, bills do not provide a sufficient foundation on which to build a movement. Movements are fueled by volunteers, and volunteers need things to do to sustain their engagement. They also need to accumulate small wins to build momentum. By themselves, bills in Congress typically provide neither.

Finally, the handgun-ban gambits emboldened gun owners to become the political juggernaut that they are today. Hard-line gun-rights supporters, alert to the growing threat posed by the "gun grabbers," staged a famous takeover of the NRA board in 1977. Then and there, the new NRA decided never again to surrender to the siren song of political compromise but rather to fight all gun-control measures, no matter how modest, at all levels of government. Almost immediately, the NRA launched a state-by-state campaign -- whose importance gun controllers did not fully grasp -- to secure "pre-emption" laws. By banning localities from regulating firearms, pre-emption stripped the incipient gun-control movement of the local projects around which it was beginning to mobilize. When the NRA's pre-emption campaign began, nearly 9 out of 10 states allowed local regulation of firearms; by the end, in early 2005, that figure was 1 in 10.

Stung by those and other losses, national gun-control leaders have become more sympathetic to the movement-building approach. The two major gun-control organizations long ago ceased calling for a national handgun ban, but they remained ambivalent about building a grass-roots movement, in part because nurturing chapters is expensive and difficult and in part because national leaders' priority remained national legislation.

The 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, near Denver, and the Million Mom March a year later helped change that thinking. While the press branded the march a flop -- because Congress didn't respond and because the march's organizational shell imploded -- the moms actually succeeded in two core ways. They helped persuade national gun-control leaders that local organizing was viable, and they laid the groundwork for a nation-spanning gun-control movement. In late 2001, the nation's largest gun-control group, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, adopted the struggling Million Mom March chapters, giving the national lobby an organized network of grass-roots activists for the first time in its 27-year history. The other major gun-control lobby, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (formerly the Coalition to Ban Handguns), likewise turned its attention to raising money for and working with state gun-control groups during the 1990s and beyond.

The reasons for the missing movement for gun control are complex, but the reason for the missing scholarship is disturbingly simple. Social scientists are trained to study phenomena that have happened -- the observable, the countable -- and professional rewards flow to those who count observable phenomena well. That axiom holds even though it violates the cardinal rule of social science: You can't build a solid theory of the way the world works without looking both at outcomes that have occurred and at those that have not. And yet, the theory of social movements is derived exclusively from movements that have occurred. As my work on gun control demonstrates, missing movements draw our attention to the vital but underappreciated roles that leadership, language, organization, and strategy play not only in encouraging but also in discouraging the civic action of concerned citizens.

After the Columbine shootings, when Congress refused to act, gun-control leaders realized that new approaches would be necessary if they were to do more encouraging and less discouraging of vigorous citizen action. That was the lesson of Columbine: Only a true grass-roots movement for gun control can defeat the NRA and produce the firearms policies Americans desire.

Kristin A. Goss is an assistant professor of public-policy studies and political science at Duke University. Her book, Disarmed: The Missing Movement for Gun Control in America, was published last month by Princeton University Press.

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buzz_knox
October 11, 2006, 09:28 AM
People keep asking why they should be worried about who controls Congress, since "everyone knows" that gun control is political suicide. You've now got the answer. The anti-gunners aren't through with us; they are just regrouping to educate the young that the 2nd Amendment doesn't mean what it says and to get them involved.

Once this "grass roots" movement takes hold, a certain party will return to its place as the vanguard of the movement. But hey, that'll never happen . . . right?

Standing Wolf
October 11, 2006, 09:34 AM
What the movement against alcohol, as well as the movements against abortion and tobacco, managed to do that the movement for gun control didn't -- at least until recently -- was figure out a message that would trump the classical liberal assumption that liberty is paramount.

Who said Puritanism is dead?

K-Romulus
October 11, 2006, 10:49 AM
being honest from the start regarding their intentions has hurt the "gun grabbers" (her own words), so they should use the piecemeal approach?

I like how she calls a nationwide handgun ban "rational, national," and then goes on to use quotation marks around the term "gun grabbers."

And this is refreshingly honest:

. . . A message that would trump the classical liberal assumption that liberty is paramount. That message: Regulating liberty is necessary to protect children.

MechAg94
October 11, 2006, 11:23 AM
So their assumption from the start is that if you are not an NRA member then you are not pro-gun and would support gun control. I think that is a fallacy if they actually believe it. The reason gun control has not picked up steam after these shootings is that most people understand that these were planned crimes. Existing gun laws didn't stop them and no proposed gun control laws would have stopped them either.

progunner1957
October 11, 2006, 12:13 PM
What the movement against alcohol, as well as the movements against abortion and tobacco, managed to do that the movement for gun control didn't -- at least until recently -- was figure out a message that would trump the classical liberal assumption that liberty is paramount. That message: Regulating liberty is necessary to protect children. The classic justification of the antigun bigots: "For the children."

Never mind the 2 million people annually - including children - that are saved from being brutalized at the hands of predatory criminal thugs by privately owned handguns.

The antigun bigots would throw them to the wolves to achieve their socialist goals.:barf:
What the movement against alcohol, as well as the movements against abortion and tobacco, managed to do that the movement for gun control didn't -- at least until recently -- was figure out a message...The truth doesn't need "figuring out."

The truth of the matter is, guns in the hands of private citizens save lives, period.

longeyes
October 11, 2006, 12:34 PM
What the movement against alcohol, as well as the movements against abortion and tobacco, managed to do that the movement for gun control didn't -- at least until recently -- was figure out a message that would trump the classical liberal assumption that liberty is paramount. That message: Regulating liberty is necessary to protect children. The gun-control forces didn't embrace such maternalistic rhetoric until 2000, when a coterie of suburban women organized the massive Million Mom March in Washington and nearly 70 cities around the country.

Most of these killings are at the hands of gangbangers. All of them have mothers. The idea that mothers aren't implicated in cultural problems is another of those naive assumptions of modern liberalism.

Henry Bowman
October 11, 2006, 12:36 PM
The truth of the matter is, guns in the hands of private citizens save lives, period.Yes, once again, the "argument" fails to acknowledge the benefits of guns in our culture. At least she admits she's anti-liberty.

Bartholomew Roberts
October 11, 2006, 12:47 PM
That author couldn't find a clue if it was dangling from her hindquarters by its teeth. There are so many unfounded factual assumptions that she uses to support the rest of her thesis that I could spend the rest of the day challenging it if I had the time. I can't believe an assistant professor at Duke isn't ashamed to publish something that horrid.

I do like the "O, wah wah, we are only supported by the Joyce Foundation and the Open Society Institute" line. Must be hard to only receive several million dollars of funds from what essentially amounts to fewer individuals than THR.

I also like her assumption that there is a great silent crowd who ranks gun control as an important issue for them as well as her ability to completely ignore the MMMs spectacular implosion as an astro-turf movement.

Overall though, I think the gun control movement needs more like this author. Clueless, over-optimistic are always welcome in political opponents - particularly when they want to advocate for spending money where it will be least effective for them. It always gives me a kick to see someone come into this debate only knowing about 3 years of history and then proceed to make the same classic mistakes made earlier.

Jorg Nysgerrig
October 11, 2006, 01:11 PM
A little more about the author. I would have expected a better argument from someone with her credentials. http://www.pubpol.duke.edu/people/faculty/goss/gossbio.pdf
http://www.amazon.com/Disarmed-Movement-Princeton-American-Politics/dp/0691124248

From the original post: Her book, Disarmed: The Missing Movement for Gun Control in America, was published last month by Princeton University Press.

Nothing like a school shooting to give her an opprotunity to plug her first book.

Michael Courtney
October 11, 2006, 01:13 PM
The gradual side in academic values will hasten the day when gun control is strengthened.

Fewer and fewer students are graduating from high school with sufficient reading skills to read and understand the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, much less other important documents like the Federalist Papers. And less and less time is spent in classrooms discussing the actual text rather than interpretations and expositions of the text.

Math skills are rapidly decaying also. Fewer and fewer high-school graduates are capable of solving simple word problems involving three letter formulas (A = BC or A = B/C) or simply graphing data that form a simple line. College math standards are decaying as well, so the number of folks who can spot the strength or flaw in a statistical presentation is declining.

In the absence of mathematical understanding, people favor either their pre-existing biases or their preferred expert opinion when evaluating quantitative information. In other words, "It's wrong because I don't like the conclusion" is the thought process rather than "It's wrong because I've found a quantitative or logical flaw in the analysis." (Of course they often claim a quantitative or logical flaw, but they don't really know what it means.)

Folks, if we don't teach future generations, to read and to think quantitatively, the gun grabbers are guaranteed to win and we'll suffer a host of other indignities as well.

Michael Courtney

longeyes
October 11, 2006, 01:19 PM
The gun-grabbers are going to need guns to grab guns.

Don't extrapolate. A lot of heavy stuff will start coming down when all of this, as it will, starts going too far.

Thefabulousfink
October 11, 2006, 01:34 PM
the classical liberal assumption that liberty is paramount. That message: Regulating liberty is necessary to protect children.

This "author" sounds like she would be right a home in the USSR. Remember the farm collectivisation in the 1930's:

"Comrade, for the good of the people you must give up your farm and come work at the kolkhoze."

"Comrade, for the good of the people you must donate much of you crop to the State. Do not worry about being paid as we will provide everything you need"

"Comrade, for the good of the people you must give ALL you crop to the State. Do not worry about feeding yourselves as we will provide you with food later."

Just simplify the subject and you get:

"Comrade, you must give up your liberty for the good of the State.":barf:

*Edited for spelling after I drank some coffee*

longeyes
October 11, 2006, 02:55 PM
The people at war against children in this society--and a real war there is--are not the lawful gunowners of America. And the Left knows this in its heart. This is a deep and systemic problem that so many are trying so hard to repress.

glummer
October 11, 2006, 03:00 PM
Comrad, for the good ... It's "comrade."

romma
October 11, 2006, 03:13 PM
A little more about the author. I would have expected a better argument from someone with her credentials She is dumbing down her argument to reach her target audience. LOL

atek3
October 11, 2006, 03:26 PM
I like how she completely ignores the spread of concealed carry laws through out the 90's and 00's...

Also in that article she expressly lays out that all laws are simply stepping stones to total confiscations, an explicit admission that a no-compromise strategy for gun rights advocates is correct.

atek3

atek3
October 11, 2006, 03:45 PM
interestingly enough in her book she discusses the evolution of the DCM and the ODCMP. Until 1979 to buy a rifle from the DCM you HAD to be an NRA member, which certainly helped recruiting efforts... interesting.

atek3

ArmedBear
October 11, 2006, 05:01 PM
Also in that article she expressly lays out that all laws are simply stepping stones to total confiscations, an explicit admission that a no-compromise strategy for gun rights advocates is correct.

Yup.


What the movement against alcohol, as well as the movements against abortion and tobacco, managed to do that the movement for gun control didn't -- at least until recently -- was figure out a message that would trump the classical liberal assumption that liberty is paramount.

That's interesting, and it's false.

First off, Prohibition is acknowledged as a political and practical failure, that led to MORE problems with alcohol, MORE criminal involvement by everyday citizens, and MORE organized crime.

Second, both movements against tobacco and abortion are based on arguments that DO assume that liberty is paramount.

The difference between Pro-Life and Pro-Choice advocates is not that one believes in individual rights and the other doesn't. The entire argument centers around whose rights take precedence, and when. Many Pro-Choice absolutists, especially on the left, are strong advocates of government involvement "to protect the child", though only after he/she is born. The hard-core Pro-Life side just says that one has individual rights starting at conception, rather than 9 months later, and that these trump some rights of the mother -- something that both sides tend agree about, after birth. Neither side is arguing at all that individual rights, in general, are unimportant.

The same goes for tobacco. The movement that led to the banning of smoking in bars and restaurants in California did so based on the right of people working in these establishments to a daily work environment free of large concentrations of known carcinogens -- something that factories have had to provide for a few generations now. Now, no matter where you weigh in on the argument, the difference is again whose rights take precedence: bar and restaurant owners to decide what can go on in their businesses, or employees to earn a living without unnecessarily sacrificing their life expectancy. This is still an argument that assumes that individual rights are paramount, and the two sides disagree only about whose rights take precedence.

MechAg94
October 11, 2006, 06:20 PM
Michael Courtney, I do agree with you. I think it is more the lack of critical thinking and analysis that is not taught at all. Memmorization and regurgitation are only small pieces of intelligence. Math falling off is part of it since the primary purpose of mathematics is to teach you to think. :)

eukanuba
October 12, 2006, 05:44 PM
This ignores a simple fact. The VAST MAJORITY of licensed gunowners are law-abiding.
She props up the NRA as some kind of evil entity. I mean come on lady. Do I smell "straw man" argument?

Zundfolge
October 12, 2006, 05:55 PM
This ignores a simple fact. The VAST MAJORITY of licensed gunowners are law-abiding.

If I might pick a nit here, the VAST MAJORITY of gunowners are unlicensed (and yet are still law-abiding ... imagine that :p ).

Kim
October 13, 2006, 01:31 AM
But prohibition lead to NASCAR. :neener:

Otherguy Overby
October 13, 2006, 03:55 AM
Kim:
But prohibition lead to NASCAR. :neener:

And Waco, Ruby Ridge and many other abuses. :cuss:

Deanimator
October 13, 2006, 11:30 AM
Overall though, I think the gun control movement needs more like this author. Clueless, over-optimistic are always welcome in political opponents - particularly when they want to advocate for spending money where it will be least effective for them. It always gives me a kick to see someone come into this debate only knowing about 3 years of history and then proceed to make the same classic mistakes made earlier.
Her approach to gun control is strikingly reminiscent of the Japanese approach to the fight for New Guinea. In order to conquer New Guinea, the Japanese needed for there to be a military quality road across the Owen Stanley Mountains... so they declared one to exist. In order to impose authoritarian, anti-democratic gun controls, she needs a vast, untapped reservoir of support... so she declares one to exist.

Unfounded wishful thinking CAN be a tactic... just not a SUCCESSFUL tactic...

Prince Yamato
October 13, 2006, 11:50 AM
Pennsylvanians grappled with a question that has preoccupied Americans for decades: Will we ever get real gun control here?

typical case of the intellectual projecting their views on the general population. It's like they don't want to say, " I want my liberties taken away because I'm a scared weakling." so instead they say, " [people] want to know: when will we get gun control?"

longeyes
October 13, 2006, 01:09 PM
It doesn't matter whether we are law-abiding; people like her don't trust or like people like us. Nor are they really comfortable with themselves. That is not going to change--even if we are all disarmed. It's our minds, our values, our attitutes that are the real weapons to these folks; that is what they fear most.

MuzzleBlast
October 13, 2006, 08:05 PM
Not that it would do any good, but here is the Duke University faculty page on the author:
http://fds.duke.edu/db/aas/PoliticalScience/kgoss

Her email address is kgoss@duke.edu

Justin
October 13, 2006, 08:52 PM
If you choose to engage her in a dialogue, might I post a reminder that the ideals of taking The High Road do not end at your broswer window.

Gordon Fink
October 15, 2006, 06:11 AM
The important thing to note here is that she didnít prove her point. The gun-control movement is well-organized and well-funded and has been remarkably successful.

~G. Fink

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