A lot of people have probably already seen the new polling data showing the other side is losing public opinion on the “assault weapons” issue. For the first time ever, majority opinion no longer favors banning so-called “assault weapons.” No matter what else I have to say about this, this is an incredible milestone for the movement. I believe we have achieved this through unprecedented educational and cultural outreach by our movement. Back in the 1988, Josh Sugarmann set out to deceive the public with his now infamous quote:
Assault weaponsâ€”just like armor-piercing bullets, machine guns, and plastic firearmsâ€”are a new topic. The weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weaponsâ€”anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gunâ€”can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons. In addition, few people can envision a practical use for these weapons.
You’ll recall that the gun control movement started as a movement to ban handguns in the early 1970s. Fortunately for us, they never found much success.Â Why? Because what people tell pollsters has always been a lot different than how they actually vote on gun control once they get into voting booths. The handgun ban movement wereÂ handed two huge defeats in ballot measures in Massachusetts and California, in 1976 and 1982 respectively. A third defeat came in 1986 with the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act. The handgun ban movement was at death’s door, and they needed a new issue. Assault weapons were that issue. The handgun ban movement had spent years trying to reassure hunters and sportsmen they weren’t ever going to go after long guns, well, until they decided to go after long guns. The high-water mark for that issue was the mid-1990s.
The Federal Assault Weapons Ban passed into law September 13, 1994. I was 20 years old and in college. I never realized that such a thing could happen in America. The more I started to understand the issue, the angrier I got. I bought my first firearm, a Romanian SAR-1 Kalashnikov right after Y2K when gun shops were clearing out unsold inventory at good prices. The next day I joined the NRA. I don’t think my story is unique.
The gun control movement is a story of failure: failure that can be directly traced to miscalculating public opinion, and reaching too far. They’ve always been quick to believe polling on the issue. Both handgun ban ballot initiatives in Massachusetts and California were polling to handily win, but they didn’t. They claimed 92% public support for “Universal Background Checks” and only managed 60% in a very blue state. Polling on this issue doesn’t matter, and our opponents have never understood that. The politicians, however, do.
The reason they have overreached consistently is because they have to. As much as gun control folks might want universal background checks, that issue isn’t going to keep money rolling into the coffers of gun control groups. Their goal has never been public safety or crime control. Their goal has always been to destroy this country’s shooting culture and the culture of individual rights and self-reliance that underpin it.
The gun control movement has seen a minor resurgence of late. Obama has been successful at making gun control a shibboleth of the progressive left. Bloomberg has succeeded at bringing money to the table the gun control movement historically could only dream of. He is happy to nibble around the edges of our rights, without the need to explain to donors why they have to accept only half-measures for now. We now have three goals ahead of us:
- Destroy Bloomberg’s incarnation of the gun control movement. This is going to be hard, because unlike other donors, he’s willing to spend big to get inches, and he can afford to keep doing it.
- Improve the Supreme Court so we can enjoy robust protections from the courts that will be hard to undo. If any of the Dem candidates win in 2016, this will be hopeless.
- Restore gun rights in states that have been largely successful in eradicating the Second Amendment rights of their citizens. We have to do this one way or another. It’s not an option to have two Americas.
This new polling data shows we can change public opinion, even if it takes hundreds of conversations across hundreds of dinner tables, or millions of conversations on social media. We can take their winning issue today, and make it their albatross tomorrow. With luck, there will be one Second Amendment, for the whole country, with no more “good” or “bad” states.