One of the biggest reasons progressives have been on the sidelines for about a generation is that, sometimes, the loudest of us really suck at politics. One reason is because many of the loudest on our side don’t listen to anyone but ourselves. They make assumptions and accept them, then proudly formulate "solutions" to problems, without any investigation into the extent of that problem, or even the details of that problem.
As an example, let’s look at the term “gun control.”
I've had discussions with a certain progressive who is very spirited and very energetic, and who means well, about her desire to change the "gun control" discussion to a discussion of "responsible gun ownership." For weeks, she's given me reasons why I should be joining her crusade, and she won't accept my objections to doing so.
The main objection I have is my natural aversion to the overuse of euphemism in politics. It's dishonest. Frank Luntz is considered a "genius" because he's teaching intelligent people how to say things to attract right wing morons. That's not what progressives do. We should be attracting the reasonable people who don't buy that BS. Do we really believe that political moderates are too stupid to realize that "responsible gun ownership" is a euphemism for "gun control"? Think about this; how do we get "responsible gun ownership" without gun control?
My second objection is that there really is no problem with gun control, except that many progressives have opted out of the discussion. They assume most are against gun control, and they leave the discussion to the far extremes of the political spectrum.
I've been doing this a long time. There has always been significant support for common sense gun control measures. What turns people off is the screaming. Let’s look at some polls and I'll show you what I mean. Please click that link and follow along.
In the first USA Today/Gallup poll taken after Sandy Hook, respondents were asked the following question:
"In general, do you feel that the laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict, less strict, or kept as they are now?"
As you can see, 58% of respondents answered “more strict,” while 34% said they should be “kept as they are now,” and only 6% said gun laws should be “less strict.” And while those numbers do reflect a reaction to Sandy Hook. the numbers for the same question in October 2011 were not horribly different. Back then, 43% answered “more strict,” while 44% answered “kept as they are now,” and 11% said “less strict.” Go back over the years, the numbers don’t change all that much.
Basically, upwards of 85% of respondents were in favor of reasonable gun control before Sandy Hook, and upwards of 90% accept it now.
Who are we supposed to be creating euphmisms for, exactly? It would seem that most "moderates are in favor of gun control, even before we euphemize it to "responsible gun ownership."
And if you think the reason the numbers are so high because they avoided the term “gun control,” scroll down to the CBS News poll, which asks almost exactly the same question:
"In general, do you think gun control laws should be made more strict, less strict, or kept as they are now?"
Even with the use of the phrase "gun control," the numbers are almost identical to the USA Today/Gallup polls above. This year, post-Newtown, 57% said “more strict,” 30% “kept as they are,” and 9% “less strict.” Last April, before Newtown, the numbers were 39%, 40% and 14%.
Where’s the problem for us in those numbers? I don’t see it. Based on most polls, something within striking distance of a majority are at least amenable to stricter gun laws. How strict should they be? Well, look at the next question in the USA Today/Gallup poll:
"Do you think there should or should not be a law that would ban the possession of handguns, except by the police and other authorized persons?"
As anyone who’s been advocating for gun control for a really long time (like me) can guess, most respondents answered there should not be such a law. Even after Sandy Hook, 74% said that. Since 2004, that number has always been high.
Another poll, from CNN/ORC, asks the following question:
"Which of the following statements comes closest to your view? There should be no restrictions on owning guns. There should be some restrictions on owning guns. All guns should be illegal for everyone except police and authorized personnel."
Again, not surprisingly, 71% think there should be some restrictions on owning guns. And that number has been consistent for years; it’s not an answer borne out of the Newtown Massacre. Poll after poll says the same thing; MOST people are in favor of gun control, even when you call it gun control. They have always been in favor of gun control, even though it’s been called “gun control” the entire time.
And it’s obvious where the boundaries are. Roughly 85-90% understand what the Second Amendment means, and have no problem with reasonable gun restrictions. Three quarters of voters aren’t comfortable with a handgun ban. Okay, so we don't ba all handguns. On the other hand, nearly everyone is fine with background checks and restricting gun ownership from convicted felons and the mentally ill, and a large majority are in favor of a ban on assault weapons and high capacity clips. Therefore, any presumption that American “moderates” are not in favor of gun control is false, and has been for some time.
The reason the gun control debate has stalled is the same reason so many other debates on other issues have stalled. Reactionaries on both sides scream about the extremes, while a majority of the American people, who just want government to work and fix problems, are largely ignored. And you have otherwise thoughtful progressives who know nothing about this issue, or political reality in general, wracking their brain to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.
I’ve been fighting this fight for at least 30 years. Every time I call for registration, licensing and insurance for all guns, the organized gunloons scream at me and call me a “gun grabber.” It’s what they do. They've been using the same five rotating lame arguments, none of the arguments even make sense,. But as you can see from the polls, perhaps10-15% think the Second Amendment creates an absolute right, so who cares what they think?
No euphemism will ever solve the extremism problem. You could call strengthening gun laws “chocolate pudding” and you’d get the same reaction from the same people. Thinking you can change the term to something like "responsible gun ownership" and “moderates” will suddenly change their mind and support is the reason progressives are on the sidelines in the political arena.
I can tell you exactly what will happen.
Progressive: “We need to discuss responsible gun ownership."
Moderate: “You mean gun control.”
Progressive: “No, I’m talking about responsible gun ownership. Registering all guns, licensing all owners and making gun owners responsible.”
Moderate: “That’s gun control.”
Progressive: “No, it’s not. It's responsible gun ownership.”
Moderate: "Well, aren't most gun owners responsible already?"
Progressive: "Yes, of course, but we want to make the irresponsible ones responsible."
Moderate: "Oh, okay, so you're in favor of controlling guns, to keep them out of the bad guys' hands."
And the “opponent” is right. It is gun control. It’s always been gun control.
The term “gun control” has been in use for more than a century. Changing the term right now would be roughly equivalent to calling your pet armadillo a cat, in order to get around the landlord’s ban on certain types of pets. Changing the name doesn’t change gun control. Gun control is already a liberal meme; embrace it.