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Anti-Gun Political Capital

Since we talked about NRA and political capital here and here.  It’s an interesting exercise to think about what the Brady Campaign’s sources of political capital are.  I think they look a lot different than NRA.

  1. Media relationships.  Without a doubt, Brady would be nothing without this.  Their access to media, their ability to shape their public message, and to ultimately shape the public debate is unbelievably strong.  I can think of few other issue advocacy groups that play the media game better than The Brady Campaign.
  2. Existing laws. The existing gun laws are actually a significant source of their political power.  Outright bans or severe and heavy restrictions in several of America’s largest major metropolitan areas have so severely depressed gun ownership in these areas that no one has any familiarity with guns, or their responsible use.  Few middle class people own guns themselves, or have even fired one.  This makes them very fertile soil for Brady to plant their seeds of disinformation with help from a friendly media.
  3. Political reputation.  The Brady Campaign was responsible for the third major change in federal gun control laws, and had a strong influence on the laws of a few states.  The third major change in those laws even bears the name “The Brady Act.”  Even though they were called Handgun Control Inc. when the Brady Act passed, they were smart enough to change their name.  They have a reputation for passing gun control, which no other gun control organization out there can claim.
  4. Donors.  Brady doesn’t have a concept of membership in the same manner than NRA does, in large part because it has its roots in issue advocacy, whereas NRA has its roots in promoting the shooting sports.  The Brady Campaign has a much smaller grass roots presence, but maintaining healthy media relationships isn’t as resource intense as lobbying and political activity, which they also do, but with very powerful help from the media establishment.
  5. Issue expertise.  We know they are full of shit on guns, but the media doesn’t.  They are the go-to group when it comes to gun control topics.

It’s pretty clear that the core of the Brady Campaign’s political power is their media relationships, while NRA’s core is their membership.  The great thing about Brady’s sources of political capital is they aren’t easily exhausted.  They can maintain a high degree of media activity without much cost, which can serve to publicly embarrass politicians that oppose gun control, and publicly support those who do.  Because of their ability to shape elite cultural opinion through the media, they can basically make gun ownership a net social liability; where at a polite dinner party you’re about as likely to want to talk about a gun collection as a porn collection.

15 Responses to “Anti-Gun Political Capital”

  1. Mike123 says:

    I’d add that even state level anti organizations adhere to this model as well ……. limited membership, favorable media, etc.

  2. It’s pretty clear that the core of the Brady Campaign’s political power is their media relationships, while NRA’s core is their membership. The great thing about Brady’s sources of political capital is they aren’t easily exhausted.

    I’ll agree with that, as far as it goes, but if we accept that the core of the NRA’s political power is their membership, how would they exhaust political capital by fighting the Holder confirmation? Are we to believe that they’ll lose membership by doing so?

  3. Sebastian says:

    Fighting Holder doesn’t really exhaust their membership as a source of political capital in the sense that they will lose membership. Here’s the way that would spend capital:

    NRA issues an alert to its membership. Any alert will either generate a high volume of calls/letters/e-mails, or a low volume of calls/letters/e-mails, depending on how passionate members are about the issue. I would predict an alert about Holder to generate a low volume of calls, compared to alerting on, say, a new assault weapons ban. Most people just aren’t following appointments that closely, and aren’t likely to see the connection even if you point it out right there in the alert. Keep in mind, those of us who follow this stuff very closely are a small minority. Every time NRA tells their membership to do something, you’ll have some guys that will think “I did my part in this fight.” and go back to sitting tight, especially if the next issue isn’t something that particularly moves or scares them.

    Without a heavy call volume, NRA won’t have much room to twist arms on Capitol Hill. Even with a heavy call volume, you’re starting out with roughly a 5 vote deficit to even get a filibuster (which just puts the confirmation on hold, there can still be an acting AG appointment), and a 15 vote deficit to obtain victory. There might be two or three Senators who’s arms could be twisted, but not 15. What you’re looking at is a guaranteed loss. There will be some Republicans that vote yes on Holder. There won’t be party unity on this vote. If NRA expends its resources to defeat Holder, and fails, that gives the administration further cover for more transgressions, and signals the Congressional leadership NRA is impotent in the 111th Congress. They will come at us with something. When they do, you will get Democrats who will say “You know, I went to bat for you guys on the Holder thing. I can’t afford to buck the leadership again.”

    If they do that, you’re stuck trying to defeat them in the next election. You may or may not be able to do that, depending on the circumstances, and the issues playing out in the election.

    And you will have done all that, in order to give Obama the chance to put forth another nominee who is likely just as bad.

  4. gattsuru says:

    I’ve seen more than a fair share of evidence suggesting that the media knows or can at least research a decent amount about firearms. They just don’t give a damn.

    I’ve personally contacted the same writer not once but twice about calling a pile of airsoft guns a firearms arsenal, even gotten a response. They don’t care about what the truth is; they care about getting The Message out there.

    Even with a tenth of the population caring what the NRA says, it’s very, very hard to compete with the “gospel truth” coming from nine out of ten media outlets.

  5. Sebastian says:

    It would be. A lot reporters are happy to help spread disinformation about guns. But it’s like the population in general. Some people will hate you no matter what. The trick is trying to build relationships with reporters who aren’t true believers.

  6. Rich in Ohio says:

    ” I can think of few other issue advocacy groups that play the media game better than The Brady Campaign. ”

    Do they really play it that well – or is the media so sympathetic to their side that they don’t have to try hard at all? Lots of groups send out press releases. Their’s are more effective because they’re more likely to be cut and pasted. Their spokesmen are treated sympathetically on TV and get the benefit of friendly editing. Is that a function of the Brady Campaign’s awesome media skills – or of the media’s prejudice?

    I won’t argue that they’re successful, I’m just not sure they have to be talented achieve that success.

  7. Sebastian says:

    Do they really play it that well – or is the media so sympathetic to their side that they don’t have to try hard at all?

    Both

  8. Wolfwood says:

    The good thing from our side is that the media need not be liberal and anti-gun. Instapundit’s “Army of Davids” has helped with this, both by discrediting the MSM and by providing easily-accessible alternative views.

    That’s why so many of us “prags” are trying to avoid direct conflicts as much as reasonably possible. We don’t have the clout for a sustained political battle, or perhaps even for certain individual battles. If we can tear down the unearned clout of the anti-RKBA folks, increase NRA membership (or at least RKBA support), and educate those around us about guns then our odds of winning in future battles stand a better chance.

    If the NRA is seen as constantly fighting losing battles its support will dry up. If it’s seen as winning when it chooses to act then people will be more confident about giving money in the future.

  9. Rio Arriba says:

    Perhaps it’s futile, but I print out the gunfacts.info latest PDF and send it to pols and “journalists” who seem fact-challenged. I agree that they are not really interested in the truth, but at least I have put good information in their hands.

    Drip by drop. I have been told that my distribution of these print-outs had an effect on some recent very important legislative events in my home state. I’d like to think that’s true and that we can all play.

  10. Jim W says:

    Dunno if you guys follow the news that much, but apparently nearly all the mainstream media outlets are in dire financial straits due to their now rock solid reputation for bias.

  11. Sebastian says:

    Jim: The second post in this series is going up tomorrow, where I address that topic.

  12. Xrlq says:

    Outright bans or severe and heavy restrictions in several of America’s largest major metropolitan areas have so severely depressed gun ownership in these areas that no one has any familiarity with guns, or their responsible use.

    I’m not sure I buy that. Chicago, NYC and DC have onerous gun ordinances, sure, but preemption laws take that issue off the table almost everywhere else. Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc. can’t regulate firearm ownership at all, but that doesn’t change the fact that few denizens of these cities own or appreciate firearms.

  13. Sebastian says:

    That’s true, but California’s gun laws, as a whole, are pretty god awful. I would also argue that New York City and Chicago are the two strongest urban centers that promote gun control.

  14. Xrlq says:

    California’s laws suck, sure, but they don’t suck nearly enough to prevent the average Californian from owning as many guns as he wants to, as long as he’s willing to forgo a few models here and there. All but one of the guns I own now, I owned legally in California before, and even that one, an AR-15 with a STAG action, was one I later learned to be California legal. In any event, the statewide crap-laws can’t explain the huge variations within the state of gun ownership rates in rural vs. urban counties, when all Californians must deal with exactly the same laws.

    By comparison, NYS laws suck across the board, too, but not enough to make gun ownership anywhere near as rare upstate as it is in and around NYC. Focus on “and around,” as not all NYC suburbs have the same horrendous gun laws that NYC itself does. Ditto for Chicago – a few suburbs copied their bans until a month or two ago, but the vast majority never did. I’d also be willing to wager that a similarly percentage of NOVA residents are comfortable with guns, despite enjoying (or not enjoying, as it were) the same gun-friendly policies that the rest of Virginia takes for granted.

    To the extent that horrendous local gun laws and low gun ownerships correlate, the causal arrow is mostly in the direction of low gun ownership rates causing crappy laws, not vice-versa. Though it does work the other way, too. I am living proof, having complied with Evanston, IL’s handgun ban upon learning of it by … getting the hell out of Evanston.

  15. Wolfwood says:

    Drat it all, Northern Virginia is a region; NOVA is a community college!

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