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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

The Gun Control Movement Needs To Shoot Its Messengers

Matt Pressberg |
April 10, 2013 | 10:27 p.m. PDT


Michael Bloomberg should step aside in the gun debate. (Boss Tweed/Flickr)
Michael Bloomberg should step aside in the gun debate. (Boss Tweed/Flickr)
The headline piece of gun politics news Wednesday was the deal reached on a bipartisan bill to expand background checks spearheaded by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). The more revealing piece of gun politics news was the report that Toomey made co-sponsor and New York Democrat (in every sense of the term) Chuck Schumer go away as a condition to speak in favor of the bill at the press conference announcing it.

This episode may be humorous (and more so if you picture the face Schumer must have made), but Toomey’s demand itself wasn’t silly at all. The broad gun law reform coalition has to shoot some of its messengers if it wants to win the political battles on Capitol Hill—and the dinner table battles across America.

It is hard to imagine a worse person to be the face of gun control than New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Wall Street plutocrat who owns homes in London, Bermuda and Vail. He has recently started to fund TV ads criticizing Democratic senators from Republican states for not acting aggressively enough—in his opinion—on new gun control legislation.

This is not helpful to those legislators who need credibility in their own state to get things done, and it’s not helpful in making progress toward legislation that could reduce crime and preserve the right—not privilege—of law-abiding citizens to own guns. It stands to reason that such legislation would most likely come from politicians familiar with guns and gun culture and not the mayor of New York City.

Americans aren’t opposed to hearing proposals for new gun laws that most of them already agree with, or even those that might challenge their current thinking. They just don’t want to hear them from Manhattan Mike Bloomberg.

Voters are willing to listen as long as they feel respected in return. Bill Clinton understood this better than anyone. The current faces of gun control do not. Flyover Americans look at Bloomberg, willing to spend taxpayer money to ban large sodas, and see nothing but antipathy and condescension toward their way of life.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a former mayor of San Francisco, made a bill to ban certain semiautomatic rifles classified as assault weapons the cornerstone of her contribution to the current wave of gun control proposals.

A ban on these weapons, which account for a tiny minority of all gun murders in America, would be a “silly law” that would needlessly irritate gun owners and wouldn’t do much to decrease gun crime, according to Adam Winkler, law professor and author of Gunfight. Even some of the Sandy Hook parents, who have every right to viscerally hate these weapons, one of which killed their child, on emotional grounds, are not emphasizing a ban as part of the reforms they’d like to see passed, which is due to the fact that they spent time getting educated on the issue.

So why is Dianne Feinstein prioritizing banning assault weapons? More than that, why is she out front on this issue? Why are Michael Bloomberg and Chuck Schumer?

The Senate exists explicitly so that all parts of the country can have their voices heard on issues that might otherwise be ignored by the big city. Not so New York City and San Francisco can tell everyone what to do, and especially on an issue that affects urban Americans in a completely different way than rural Americans. There are different benefits and pitfalls to owning a gun in Lower Manhattan than there are in suburban Denver and in rural Alaska.

There’s also the fact that the variance in which certain parts of America are impacted by gun violence and which are mostly not has more to do with the factors that make El Salvador more dangerous than Sweden and less to do with tightening up the legal gun marketplace.

This is not to say that closing the gun show loophole and improving background checks isn’t worthwhile; in fact, it’s one of the few gun control proposals that might actually have some impact on reducing gun deaths. There’s just a limit to what gun laws alone can accomplish, mostly due to the fact that criminals tend to ignore legal avenues.

Improving the nation’s gun laws to reduce crime and preserve the rights of honest Americans presents the perfect opportunity for a red-state, deer-hunting Democrat like Manchin to show leadership. The emergent Americans for Responsible Solutions, a group headed by shooting victim and former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, ex-astronaut and Navy pilot Mark Kelly, adds a valuable nuanced voice to this conversation. Real Americans who support responsible and not emotional solutions should be glad they are becoming increasingly prominent in the gun debate.

A West Virginian, an Arizonan and a Navy pilot walk into a gun range. The mayor of New York City does not. That’s the point.

Read more of Neon Tommy’s coverage of gun control here.

Reach Editor-at-Large Matt Pressberg here.


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Chris (not verified) on April 11, 2013 10:32 AM

I think this is a good piece and that you've made some strong points Matt but I also think there are a lot of things you're not considering. Most gun violence doesn't come in the form of mass-shootings, its an everyday occurrence on the streets of large cities across America. You treat gun violence as something that only affects hunters and navy pilots but you're forgetting the single mother in Chicago or New York or Atlanta who has her child gunned down by gang bangers. I think they have just as much a right to enter this debate as the Arizonan and West Virginian you reference. I wholeheartedly agree with you that Michael Bloomberg is not the best person for the gun control side of this debate but its not like this red-state democrats you reference are aren't leading. Sen. Begich, Pryor both voted with Republicans to continue a filibuster on the Toomey-Manchin bill and other right-leaning Democrats aren't taking serious action either. Bloomberg and Sen. Feinstein know that their proposals won't stop every bad person from buying a gun but they obviously believe in the not so flawed logic that if they're are fewer guns on the street it will be harder to for them to obtain them. If Michael Bloomberg and Dianne Feinstein are tired of looking constituents in the eye and trying to explain why the government refused to do anything to save their sons and daugthers, then I would call that being a good public servant. Good piece though. I just think you only approach this from one perspective when there are so many voices that need to be heard. Gun laws aren't just about hunters anymore than tax policy is only about the IRS.

pressber on April 11, 2013 3:20 PM

Thanks for the comment, Chris. I probably should have made this clearer, but I'm absolutely with you on the real gun violence problem being concentrated in cities, even though we mostly think of guns as a rural red-state cultural signifier. I've written about this here: http://www.neontommy.com/news/2012/12/newtown-gun-safety-and-good-citize...

I think big-city liberals like Bloomberg and Feinstein need to share their concerns and advocate for people in their cities who have been impacted by gun violence, but they make for awful spokespeople to try to sell this issue to the deep suburban middle of this country. Most gun owners generally trust Joe Manchin not to take their guns, but Bloomberg hasn't shown any empathy and understanding of gun culture outside of his Big Apple bubble. Just because the police arrive quickly in densely packed New York doesn't mean they do in New Mexico.

Most right-leaning Democrats, as you described them, are scared of the NRA but they aren't being given a "partner for peace" with Schumer and Feinstein being the faces of gun control in the Senate. Spokesmen matter.