In our community, there’s a lot of talk about Gun Culture 1.0, representing the more traditional shooting sports culture, based around traditional shooting sports like hunting, shotgun sports, bullseye shooting, etc, and Gun Culture 2.0 which revolves around gun culture based on self-defense. As the argument for this division goes, Gun Culture 2.0 is more evangelic and politically engaged with the issue, having more dog in the fight than just their hobby. Gun Culture 1.0 was more passive, sometimes willing to defend itself when attacked, but reluctant to rock the boat and challenge the status quo, as long as their sports weren’t directly threatened.
I don’t think we should make the mistake of presuming our opponents are obstinate about change, or are somehow incapable of reinventing themselves. I propose what we’ve been witnessing, since Bloomberg’s outfit changed its moniker and subsumed Shannon Watts’ organization, is an attempt Â to bring about a transition to Gun Control 2.0, in direct opposition to Gun Culture 2.0.
Gun control 1.0 centered around attempting to ban handguns, or at the least heavily restrict access to the chosen few. It was largely a movement of elites, and depended heavily on traditional media. Gun Control 1.0 was a colossal failure by the 1990s, and nearly everyone knew it. Gun Control 1.1 was brought about by Josh Sugarmann, who floated the idea that the public were more open minded about banning things they thought were machine guns, and the movement could take advantage of that confusion in order to build momentum for further regulation. Gun Control 1.1 was not so much a failure. With rare exception, most of the gun bans and onerous gun regulations we’ve seen in a small handful of states are a product of the past two decades. We also saw significant new federal regulations, though we’ve regained some of that ground. Nonetheless, by the end of the first decade of the 21st century, it had become apparent that Gun Control 1.1 was out of steam to anyone who had an ounce of honesty. It was still a movement of elites, and still dependent on the power of traditional media to influence public opinion and prompt people to action. Those institutions are in decline.
Up until the Everytown transition, Bloomberg’s efforts were very much in the Gun Control 1.1 mold, though the idea of using Mayors is something no one had ever tried before (and for good reason, if you remember all the black eyes they took every time a MAIG mayor was convicted of this or that). We won the political fight after Sandy Hook because our opponents were still fighting like it was the 1990s. It would be difficult for anyone but a delusional fanatic to view outright defeat after the worst mass shooting in the country as anything other than abject failure, calling for the movement to reinvent itself. If there is to be a face for Gun Control 2.0, it’s Shannon Watts. I don’t think she should be lightly dismissed, and believe she is very dangerous to our rights. We underestimate her at our own peril.Â I see a number of trends that are worrying to me.
The first trend is that many gun owners who have only been in the issue while we’ve been charging up the hill probably don’t realize for most of that time our opponents had virtually no money. They were more in the “trying to save our phony baloney jobs” mode, rather than “fight the enemy at all costs” mode. You’re not going to undertake any major new or risky initiatives that could change the dynamic of the fight if your primary concern is whether you’ll still have a job next year. That all changes when you have a wealthy billionaire patron who can well-fund your organization with relative ease. When the survival of your organization is a given, you have a lot more room to try new things.
And trying new things is what Shannon Watts is busy doing. She’s trying to make her own horizontal interpretive community to match ours. That’s clear as crystal with all the information she’s been gathering under various guises, and if she has decent data analysis tools, she’ll get an idea of which people are most ripe to push for further action and deeper involvement. She could also get a pretty effective GOTV (Get out the Vote) machine going with what she’s been collecting if she’s smart enough to mine the data in an intelligent manner. There’s a lot of options when you have money to burn, and have the technology to micro target in a manner similar to the methods that swept Obama into power.
I see evidence that they are having some success. Not blow away success, mind you, but there’s plenty of evidence that she is indeed being at least partially successful at building an organization. The thing that should scare everyone reading this post is we probably won’t have any idea how successful she’s been until there’s another pretext similar or worse than Sandy Hook. We could be in a position where we’re forced to surrender ground. Even if that ground is minor, it’s going to be spun as a huge victory. It will convince supporters that gun control is possible, and once that floodgate opens, it might not close again, or if we’re lucky will close only after we’ve been badly bloodied.
This is not to say Shannon Watts and Everytown is going to become an unstoppable force; it’s not to say that her efforts are going to pay off in legislative victories and we’re helpless to stop her. The next time we face in battle we might sweep her from the field again. But we might not. From my point of view she’s doing all the right things. She’s doing what I would do if I were a leader on their side of the movement. Granted, a lot of things stand in her way. For one, her patron is an immanently dislikable megalomaniac who can’t keep his mouth shut. Everytime Bloomberg opens his mouth, it writes the next NRA fundraising letter. For two, the politicians like Feinstein, who don’t know what century this is, can’t help but to overreach and say things and introduce bills and amendments that cause our side to rise to the occasion. But fools like Feinstein won’t be around forever, and while I get the impression that Gun Culture 2.0 types on our side are, on balance, more passionate about the issue than both our opponents and those gunnies who came before us, we’ve seen the tremendous downside to having passion without any discipline, common sense, or any idea about how to engage oneself in civil society. This goes broader and deeper than the jackasses OCing rifles into restaurants and retail stores.
So how do we counter this terrible thing? For one, we have to bloody their noses in both the 2014 and 2016 elections. We have to set the perception early that Bloomberg and Watts’ organization is a paper tiger, before she really has a change to get some momentum going. We have to convince their volunteers and donor base that it’s a lost cause; that they won’t win no matter how hard they try. We have to demoralize them. But in order to do that, we need to be out there on the ground, and using the best tools at our disposal to ensure that the gun vote turns out. We need to ensure politicians see action and signs of life from our movement. We can’t stay complacent. We can’t keep focused on our old enemies, like CSGV and Brady who are now irrelevant and I believe soon to be on life support. If Shannon Watts is even half as successful as I fear, we’re going to have the kind of fight on our hands the likes of which most of us have never seen in our lifetimes, and we ourselves need to be realistic about what we could be facing.