Creating a Pro-Gun Insurgency Within the Democratic Party

Another topic people have been speaking about lately is “How do we create a pro-gun insurgency within the Democratic Party.” This is a great, worthwhile topic, because if the gun issue enjoys bipartisan support, our fortunes won’t rise and fall with a single party. So what drives success? What’s driven our success, and this works regardless of party affiliation, is the single issue voter, and it is through the single issue voter that we can win among Democrats too.

Reality is that most of us here aren’t single issue voters, but I think most of us are near single issue voters. In other words, I’d be hard pressed to vote for anyone who’s a hard core Bloomberg-backed gun control supporter, regardless of party. But I’d also be hard pressed to vote for a true communist, fascist, socialist, or theocratic candidate just because I agreed with him on gun rights. I voted for Bob Casey in 2006, despite Santorum carrying an NRA endorsement in that race, and knowing that Casey’s A rating was a promise (at the time, now we know it was a lie) rather than a record, because Santorum had pissed me off on too many other issues. So the single issue has its limits. But nonetheless it ranks very high in my political calculus, as it does most of yours. We have to have these folks in both parties in order to win, and that means getting more people to politically identify as gun owners. It doesn’t matter worth a damn whether someone owns a gun or not, what matters is whether they politically identify as gun owners. One of my biggest fears is that we continue to improve our standing in polling and public opinion, but start losing the single-issue voters necessary to keep winning elections. The former doesn’t mean squat if you can’t keep the latter growing too.

In truth we’ve already seen how a pro-gun insurgency works in the Democratic Party, because it happened between 2004 and 2006 with the Blue Dog wave that swept the Democrats into power. The Democrats had been in the political wilderness for some time, and gun control got much of the blame from Democratic strategists, so they started running candidates whose views on gun rights reflected those of the districts they were running in. Combine that with broad dissatisfaction with the GOP, and you had a recipe for the Democrats taking the House and Senate. We actually did quite well in the 2006-2010 Congress. Better than we’ve done since, in fact. The problem is that the Democratic strategists thought they could piss off their districts on every other issue and that gun rights would be enough to save them. They were wrong.

So how did we get from a Democratic House and Senate being willing to pass things like National Park Carry to where we are now? Well, because the Chicago political machine are talented snake oil salesmen who have convinced Democrats that gun control is a winning issue rather than a losing one. Additionally, conventional wisdom in progressive-left circles is that Obama has created a new progressive-left coalition that is destained to forge a permanent majority, so they no longer have to care what those cousin humpers in flyover country really think. This delusion is believable, because the Republicans have been floating some spectacularly awful candidates, and have been weakened severely by infighting between the tea party and the establishment. But the Democrats can’t count on that to go on forever. Part of making the Democrats pro-gun again is just to create a perception that gun control is a losing issue by continuing to defeat anti-gun Democrats, and to do that, we need single-issue Dems that are willing to cross the aisle when it counts. I think the overwhelming defeat of Angela Giron in Colorado is strong evidence that such folks exist.

So that’s what we ultimately need: single issue voters in the Democratic Party willing to vote in Democratic primaries for pro-gun candidates, and become involved enough in their local party races so that the people in the party know that there’s a gun vote to be pandered to. More importantly that those party leaders know that that gun vote will cross the aisle in a heartbeat if an anti-gun candidate wins. There really isn’t any insurgency involved. It just takes winning elections.

50 thoughts on “Creating a Pro-Gun Insurgency Within the Democratic Party”

  1. National park carry was attached to a financial bill and most of the Pelosi lead house was sure they were going to pass a sweeping gun control bill and undo the park carry. They were hardly progun. They were much more in favor of the screw us financial bill it was attached to.

  2. In order for a ‘pro gun’ insurgency, I think we’d have to hear a few pro gun voices from the Left….over the past year, we the increased bullying, and smearing of gun owners, as opposed to the blanket smear of the NRA, I haven’t heard a peep from any gun owners on the Left.

    1. Well, the question is are they gun owners or are they leftists? If they own guns and aren’t willing to act on that politically, then they are really of no use to our movement, because they will keep voting and acting politically in a manner that will doom their own gun rights. If you’re not willing to vote on the issue, you’re not of much use to the movement.

    2. We had pro gun blue dog dems, they’re all gone. Either voted out of office or retired.

      1. … Or dead, in the case of John Murtha. Unfortunately, it also seems like gun rights have escaped the lexicon of most self-styled “blue dogs” like Matt Cartwright.

    3. *peep* I AM the statistical anomaly that is the pro-gun leftist/lib/Dem., and I consider each piece of the bill of rights to be just as important as the next.This gun control nonsense , this assault of the “feely-feels” against lawful gun owners is absolutely NOT what I voted for .

      1. Another statistical anomaly that is the pro-gun leftist/lib/independent here.

        If Democrats embraced the 2nd Amendment fully, they’d have enough votes to break the back of the Republican Party forever. Why they don’t see this obvious advantage is absurd.

  3. One way may be to focus on hyper-local contests, like state legislature candidates rather than statewide or federal offices. You’re dealing with a much smaller pool of voters and smaller issues often take center stage. The gun issue there could be more than a margins issue. The bigger the office, the more other topics come into play. Some Ds might say, “well, he’s bad on guns, but he’s good on unions/gay marriage/taxing the ‘rich’/etc.” and vote for, say, Terry McAuliffe (to whom I’d add, “spectacularly corrupt/monumentally unintelligent/will end up in jail anyway”). At the more local level, you can connect more with a greater segment of voters. Then, when pro-gun dems have held local office for a while, they can run for bigger things…

  4. I’m one of your targets. I’m a registered Democrat, helped raise a bunch of money ($15K) for Obama in ’08, volunteered less enthusiastically in ’12, and was totally lost by him in ’13 over constitutional issues. Namely, guns, gitmo, and the NSA.

    I honestly think the key to the GOP winning Dems and the Dems winning GOP voters is by backing off policies of social morality and focusing on core civil rights in a (small L) libertarian way.

    To give an example, if you watched a gun rights rally this year, they were rarely hear focused discussion of the rights of individuals to own and keep arms. There was either open or implied assumptions that you wanted to hear about God, gays, abortion, Obama being a socialist/fascist/muslim, fiat currency, our troops, etc. In sum, a whole grab-bag of conservative ideas that I think are based on misinformation, bias, and foolishness.

    You want to broaden your coalition, then focus on bringing in Democrats from communities that have been traditionally oppressed by conservative white men. Women, blacks, LBGT, marijuana smokers (hippies), non-violent felons, and the poor. Bring them in by recognizing the value of them having guns to defend themselves against violence, including political violence.

    Then pair that with (small L) libertarianism that limits the authority of the state AND the authority of power centers (economic and social) to dictate how they live.

    1. The NRA convention I attended in Pittsburgh a couple of years back; I wasn’t *precisely* uncomfortable with the level of religious display by the speakers, but it was noticeable to me – but probably about as noticeable as air to the vast majority of the attendees. What that means for politics, I’m not going to speculate.

      1. well, to clarify myself, i was thinking the state/local 2A rallies. The NRA runs a tight ship on messaging and are very good at not clouding their issue. they’re not necessarily partisan, either, as they’re perfectly happy working with Dems who are good on gun issues.

        That said, they’re still held back by the “old white guy” problem. I for one would LOVE the idea of the NRA sponsoring gun education for gay minority youths facing harassment and assault, because that would signal a shift away from boomer biases in the org.

        1. Mixing issues is one of my pet peeves with gun rights groups, and yes, NRA is better at avoiding it than most, but NRA still does more than I’d ideally like… but I accept they have to put on an ever-growing convention and have speakers who are going to mix issues.

          And NRA is held back by the old white guy problem because NRA members are mostly old white guys. I agree they need to go after the youth, but not at the expense of their base. They have to be very careful about how they push those lines. I do think they should push them, but a lot of members are going to be very upset if NRA starts acting like a liberal gun rights group. That annoys me, but it’s true. Look how much shit they got from members when they were working with Harry Reid. Look at how much pulling that endorsement has come back to bite us in the ass after he won without needing us.

          1. I believe they made a strategic decision years ago to go after the Tea Party to boost their membership. That is why you had them turning their backs on pro-gun Dems like Reid and instead giving out gold-plated rifles to Sarah Palin.

            EVERY time I see an alert from the NRA, I ask myself “Is this really important or are they just trying to boost membership?”

          2. Sure – but the question is how to expand the Democrats who care about 2A issues to push within their party for the long term benefit of the country. Frankly, the old white guys in the NRA and Harry Reid are mostly going to be dead in 20 years. The NRA needs to position itself to appeal to people based on the 2nd Amendment, not based on conservatism. Will it be costly? sure, but the goal is to mobilize to support the 2A and old white guys better get used to pink haired black lesbians being around, cuz that battle is lost.

        2. I’d like you to clarify your statement: Are you advocating the use of a gun in cases of discrimination and harassment? Really?

          1. He said “harassment and assault.” I advocate using a gun in cases of assault (which could lead to death or serious bodily injury), regardless of whether the victim is brown or white or purple or gay or straight or polyamorous.

          2. What Chris from AK said, with the added clarification that the variety of harassment i’m talking about is the kind that inspires fear of harm and suggests imminent danger.

        3. I for one would LOVE the idea of the NRA sponsoring gun education for gay minority youths facing harassment and assault, because that would signal a shift away from boomer biases in the org.

          So close, but so very far away. No, the NRA should not do this, because it’s just more identity-politics crap. Instead, what the NRA should do is what it already does: sponsor gun education for everyone.

          Yes, I’m a member of the NRA; yes, I’ve had some (small) part in local educational activities; no, the question of anybody’s orientation has never come up so neither I nor any of my colleagues have the slightest idea what anyone’s orientation was.

          1. Is the NRA marketing classes to women under the Refuse to Be a Victim program “identity politics crap”?

            Traditional NRA gun safety education reaches target shooters, hunters, and suburban homeowners. I think the point of other outreaches is to broaden that appeal and bring in new shooters that aren’t already in contact with NRA safety and training programs.

      2. See my post below. Can’t we call it a “natural” right instead of a god-given right?

        1. Well I believe God-given rights comprise the natural law, but I won’t argue semantics on that one as relates to self defense.

  5. The philosophy of the Democratic Party is diametrically opposed to an individual right to own guns.

    True pro-gun Democrats are rare in the party. While they do exist, the provide cover for the anti-gun majority.

    Every Democrat appointed Supreme Court Justice has voted against the Second Ammendment. EVERY ONE.

    Once the democratic party has enough power they will stab any progun voters in the back who were stupid enough to vote for them.

    The party platform RIGHT NOW backs an assault weapon ban!

    1. There’s noting chiseled in stone that says this has to be the case though. We’ve historically had more pro-gun Democrats than we have today, and we had a lot of them in the 109th and 110th Congress. The question is how you get them back.

      1. If the craziness continues in Virginia, we may just get more of them back.

    2. The platforms of both parties change with time and population to capture 51% of the voting population. They don’t intrinsically stand for anything. The obvious example is the flip in party dominance in the south over race issues.

      I’m now a true 2A guy. I don’t “provide cover” for my party on guns – i’m trying to win converts within the party to the 2A, not win GOP voters. I lecture every liberal i know on why the how Obama’s flip on the issue put the pearl-clutching ninny wing of the party in the driver’s seat, scuttled his administration, and missed a major opening for true bipartisan mental health reform. And I point out that Ted Cruz won a huge national audience during the hearings simply because he was logical, articulate, and correct on the constitution.

      Btw, all, I’ve had enough fights to figure out which arguments work best against my fellow dems. The way I win against liberal educated women is to align abortion rights with gun rights. That is, they are both personal decisions about autonomy that some find morally objectionable due to allegations of harm to another, but ultimately is about self-determination.

      1. Please elaborate with your arguments, I’d love to hear them to use on liberals in Ann Arbor!

        1. I spent a lot of time in Madison, brother, so I know what you’re fighting. Along with crime data and constitutional knowledge, here’s what else I deploy:

          – Gun control = abortion control. Infringing on gun rights is similar to infringing on abortion rights, both in the tactics of infringement and the “busy body” nature of other people telling you how to live.

          – Ladies, remember the reality of violence: why would you take away a simple, small device that puts a 100 lb woman on equal or better footing with a 300 lb brute? the same argument works with the old and disabled (those in wheelchairs) as examples.

          – Get strong, girl: invoke other definitions of feminism. Think of the classic western frontierswoman with a gun on one him and a baby on the other. Tweak em with “Empower yourself. Stop expecting some man to take care of you.”

          – “who NEEDS an assault rifle?” This is easy to defeat: it’s terrible for progressives to start evaluating civil rights based on “need”. Who NEEDS gay marriage? Who NEEDS abortion rights? Who NEEDS privacy? Of those four issues, only two of them are supported explicitly by the bill of rights.

          – Resistance: You can easily point to a long history of violence against racial minorities and unions and their families. What’d they do? Got guns.

          – Finally, so as to have an affirmative argument for what we should do, a few ideas: Comprehensive mental health reform, including broad re-institutionalization of the mentally ill. Done right, it would help with the homelessness issue, drugs/alcoholism, and deranged young men. I’d also add a mental health hotline available only to FFLs, range owners, gunsmiths, etc.

          Finally, I invite them to join me at the range sometime. :)

  6. You want to start? Stop with the “Obama is a socialist and I have a god-given right to own a gun” language. I am a Democrat. I’m not sure there is a God, and I believe in 2A as much as anyone else. Believe it or not, most of my shooting friends are the same.

    Plus, the greatest erosion of our rights happened under W. But that’s another story.

  7. A few commenters above have stated things that made the “mildly uncomfortable” about the NRA, particularly at the conventions. To all of them I would add my voice and say, “Hear! Hear!”

    I would itemize examples like Sunday speakers Jonathan Falwell (more than just a generic “Christian”) and raving loon [but quietly relieved of duty] General Jerry Boykin, cancelled as a speaker by West Point, but advertized as an attraction by the NRA.

    Yeah, I get outreach and entertainment for recruitment and retention, but there is a definite pattern that I find overall discomforting. I’ve told enough Old Stories for the day, or I’d tell the one about how a loon radio talk show host attracted literally thousands of new members to an organization here in Pennsylvania, and those members by their nature set the organization back more than a decade. I’d argue it never did recover.

    I’d just question why we seem to feel apologetic about speaking out when things having nothing, zero, nada to do with guns offend us and promise to change the nature of the principal gun rights organization. Too many people take advantage of the “respect” they seem to think they culturally deserve, to browbeat the rest of us into silence.

  8. I think the NRA may want to broaden their outreach, but they also shouldn’t be stifling free speech. There’s a difference between tailoring the message and stomping on someone’s religious convictions.

    That being said, I see nothing I disagree with. I’ve long felt the NRA should be recruiting women and minorities as part of the building of the gun 2.0 culture. That and it just makes sense.

    1. but they also shouldn’t be stifling free speech

      Um, yeah, they should.

      I’m an NRA instructor. NRA “stifles my free speech” by forbidding certain off-topic discussions when I’m “on the clock” teaching an NRA approved curriculum. They regulate how I can advertise my classes. NRA’s officers arguably have a legal obligation to stifle speech which could seriously damage the organization, just like the officers of any other entity.

      The 1st Amendment exists to protect us from the government stifling free speech. Private organizations should promote speech that furthers their organization. While we could and should debate serious antis in appropriate venues, it would not be appropriate for NRA to, say, give the Brady Campaign booth space at the NRA convention, or allow an instructor wearing their NRA hat to rave about things that damage the organization, and so on and so forth.

      We don’t need to curb stomp people’s religious feelings. But there’s no reason to turn a 2A event into a Camp Revival.

    2. “There’s a difference between tailoring the message and stomping on someone’s religious convictions.”

      However, I have also observed how not “stomping on someone’s religious convictions” quickly translates into “don’t resist us making our religious convictions part of the organizational culture.”

      I have to address this by analogy, as with the exception of the conventions, and possibly Friends of the NRA dinners, the NRA is not that much of a face-to-face organization. But, a friend of mine in another state who is Jewish, a gun owner, and a Republican Party activist, has told me he has been made to feel downright unwelcome at Republican committee activities, which have become as much about witnessing for Jesus and for a fairly narrow sectarian brand of Christianity as about party organization and politicking; and anyone who is not an active participant is looked askance at and shunned. If there is any ideology involved, it somewhere transformed from “protect our rights to express our traditional religious convictions” to “impose the superiority and dominance of our traditional religious convictions on anyone who is not a Real American like us.” I’m not sure, but I think my friend, who has a history of being a committed and energetic organizer and activist, may have dropped out of party activities completely, as a result.

      For pragmatic reasons, a fine line needs to be drawn between acknowledging and accommodating the “culture” of a majority to be wooed, and slowly driving away those in minorities. It’s a problem the Republican Party has right now, and given that the NRA business in fact has very little to do with any cultural issues other than guns, it is not a problem the NRA needs to create for itself. But, there is a lot of evidence it is doing just that, It’s nature certainly isn’t that of the organization I first joined, almost exactly fifty years ago.

  9. the Republicans have been floating some spectacularly awful candidates

    No question that some of these candidates have been terrible. However, there’s a note on terminology–and the reality behind it–I’d like to make.

    I don’t know what things are like back east, but out here in former-Wobbly territory there’s a huge anti-party constituency. (It’s also hugely violative of the implied Constitutional guarantee of free association, but never mind about that because so far the anti-party folks have won the day.) This manifest itself in many strictures that weaken the parties, and in particular make it nearly impossible for the parties to actually vet those who are running under their name in the primaries.

    Out here in WA the parties have been losing these battles, but at least they forced some wording into the last go-round so that current official state documents (e.g. voters pamphlet), instead of referring to someone as a “Republican” or “Democrat”, use the curious phrase “Prefers Republican Party”, etc. This at least makes it easier to point out that loony-tunes-candidate X is not endorsed by Party Y, that the choosing was the other way around.

  10. Huge forests have been felled for all the books written about how to win at politics. The information about the mechanics of winning modern elections and playing identity politics (not in a pejorative sense, but that’s what single-issue voting is) is readily available. The question is, when are gun owners going to be ready to put in the work? The phone banks, the fundraisers, the driving neighbors to the polls? When are gun owners going to ditch our collective camo, shave, and go door-to-door with a pamphlet explaining why universal background checks are meaningless and counterproductive?

    Most Americans really don’t think about guns a whole lot, and have a “sure, why not? It doesn’t affect me” attitude about background checks, banning rifles, etc. But I believe that when they do, they land on our side of the argument. Manchin-Toomey goes from “common sense” to “terrifying” when people are told that lending their neighbor of 30 years their 10/22 to do some target shooting is a federal crime that will put them in jail for 5 years.

    We have to stop talking amongst ourselves. We already get it. We have to start inviting co-workers and neighbors to the range with as little self-consciousness as we would offering them tickets to a game. If they refuse, no problem. But if they accept, we can begin to turn them into pro-gun voters.

  11. NRA needs to stop writing off Democrat-dominated urban areas and get involved in the primary and general election processes in those areas. They have plenty of members living in urban areas and they need to start representing them.

    1. How does NRA do that? If there are so many urban members, how come you don’t see volunteers? NRA can’t really do shit if there aren’t people on the ground willing to do some of the heavy lifting.

      1. I remember giving you an example awhile back of an extremely antigun Philly councilman who was in a primary. All NRA had to do was send postcards telling members he was a stinker and to vote for his opponent in that primary. It does not matter if the candidates are perfect.

        Don’t like that idea? Find out when the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee has their annual dinner. NRA should take out an ad in their journal and send someone to represent them there.

        This is what all sorts of other urban Democrat special interests groups do. The reason for it is because political decisions are made not on right or wrong, but on who did or did not participate in elections, win or lose. NRA does not participate, their opinion does not count. It is that simple.

        As for volunteers, go look where the FNRA dinners are held. They do hold them in very Democrat areas. NRA has clubs who hold events in urban areas too.

        1. In the areas of Philadelphia where there is a more significant representation of gun owners, you can actually elect pro-gun candidates. That is mostly in the Northeast. In the rest of the city, and in the district I believe was at issue in that one race, the people are poor and I’d be surprised if there were more than one or two NRA members in those districts. There’s nothing to work with in huge swaths of many urban areas.

          And I can’t imagine that gets any better in a huge city like New York, where most people can’t even really own guns, or practically involve themselves in the gun culture. I agree that we can’t write off the cities, but it’s hearts and minds territory for places like Chicago now. We still have to fix things via the courts to even start that process for cities like New York.

          1. Sebastian, here’s an idea that i batted around with Dick Heller when i was in DC and getting active in 2A circles: a DC shooting sports club where we adopted the mantra of “shooting sports, not politics” (inspired by thefirearmblog). If I remember right, Dick didn’t really want to give up the politics part, but saw the value, as it would allow us to create a non-partisan space to encourage DC residents and especially Hill staffers to get exposure to guns and gun culture. The dilemma we ran into is technology (a website), early funding for ammo and range time, and that we were all engaged in the hill battle in our own ways. I’m now in CA, but still willing to assist, if you want to help catalyze something real. you’ve got my email!

      2. “If there are so many urban members, how come you don’t see volunteers?”

        Maybe I shouldn’t cite this because it’s ancient (1995) history and I can’t associate any hard statistics with it, but Philadelphia gun activists and “sportsmen” came out of the woodwork to fight the rural and suburban gun rights activists over the anti-gun legislation that would become Act 17 or 1995, because it contained a feature or two that would benefit them. Playing urban (Sen. Vincent Fumo [D], Sen. David Heckler [R]) legislators and their constituencies off against rural gun owners in a classic divide and conquer gambit worked like a charm.

        But the point of that story is, urbanites appear and become active when there is some promise of them accomplishing something.

        Anecdotally, there are times when no level of effort will be repaid. One year I persuaded GOA to do a mailing into a local Democratic rep district on behalf of the Republican candidate, and the R got 27 percent of vote, anyway, about the lowest any of the R sacrificial candidates has ever gotten. To complete the story, two years later he ran again, figuring this time that being anti-gun would be his better strategy, and did just as poorly.

  12. You don’t need to elect pro-gun candidates. You need to be seen as participating in the election processes which makes the issue go away. You are seriously underestimating how important that is.

    As for hearts and minds, NRA needs to try actually talking with urban media as well. I cannot recall ever seeing a press statement from them. Some general wire stories and that’s it. I’ve gotten good NYC coverage because I talk to local reporters. NRA does not.

    1. I know how important that is, Jacob. But say you can maybe get one decent volunteer out of, say 1000 members. If a particular inner-city district has only, say, 10 members, what do you really have to work with to be seen participating?

      And I agree with you that they aren’t doing enough on the PR front that doesn’t involve preaching to the choir and fundraising. But that’s a cultural problem that needs to be fixed from within.

      1. You keep harping on volunteers. It would be nice to have them and have an army show up at each candidates campaign HQ to help out, but it is not necessary. I see Democrat-leaning pressure groups who do nothing more than what I suggested, do some mailings and spread a little cash around at party functions. NRA can do that and it is, or should be, the responsibility of their field reps. to look for opportunities to do that. Same with the press. If some politician makes a statement on guns the field rep. should be authorized to talk to the media. I suspect these guys actually do very little and ILA does not keep tabs on them very well, but they are able to get away with it because most states don’t have serious problems.

  13. I am not a single-issue voter. I love my guns. I also love my Social Security and Medicare. “Obamacare” made it possible for my daughter to get insurance.

    Where to start with Democrats? Let’s stop demonizing people like Dick Metcalf who have a slightly dissenting view. This “my way or the highway” attitude does not win voters to our side.

    1. Obamacare is probably forcing Bitter to go without insurance because it’s been made unaffordable. Here’s the thing: if you’re voting for Obama, you don’t really love your guns. You say you love your guns, but you really don’t. You’re willing to sacrifice them on the altar of other issues. That’s fine, but speaking as a pro-gun activist, you’re of no use to me because you’re not willing to vote your gun rights.

Comments are closed.