Changing Hearts and Minds: People Can Be Persuaded

AK-47A 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 weapons—just like armor-piercing bullets, machine guns, and plastic firearms—are a new topic. The weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun—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. 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 were 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.

12 thoughts on “Changing Hearts and Minds: People Can Be Persuaded”

  1. Good reporting. I’ve always argued that once Wal Mart and Gander Mtn. and Cabela’s and Fleet Farm and other big box stores started carrying them and making them mainstream is when the tide was starting to turn.

    No longer was an AR-15 this odd plastic gun they kept in the back of that dusty old gun store only your uncle went to and every one knows you can turn into a machine gun with a paper clip because Miami Vice said so. Now AR-15s were in places where more people shopped and people saw they weren’t the scary machine gun the press had been telling them to be afraid of. Same for handguns, even.

  2. There were two polls by Gallop, in 2011 and 2012, after the Giffords shooting and Sandy Hook, respectively, that also showed majorities opposed to bans on assault weapons. So the CBS/NYT poll is a first for this poll, but I’d regard it more as confirmation of a long-term trend that a watershed. The truth is that we passed that watershed several years ago.

  3. Losing Wollard in 4 the Circuit was big loss to MD. IF we had got that more people would be buying and using firearms. More people that use guns the more pressure they can put on politicians. MD had Curran and anti gun AG for years Frosh is no better and O Malley went to town. We used to have pro guns democrats in the MD capital but no longer. So MD is even worse off then it was in the 1990. Hopefully Hogan can help but it is not a priority

  4. The reason AR 15 firearms are popular has a lot to do with video games. So military weapons do not scare millennials. The AR platform is so popular that Zumbo got trashed before he knew the problem.

    1. I think that’s partly true. The other part was the actual Federal assault weapons ban. Its sunset in 2004 also coinciding with widespread availability of high speed internet access.

      If I remember correctly, I was able to get 7mbps Verizon business class DSL to my apartment in the Bronx for $75/month in 2000. That put me on the path of reading less of sources like the New York Times and spending more time on good forums (e.g., and eventually this blog and a few others. Brian Patrick’s book, Rise of the Anti-Media: In-forming America’s Concealed Weapon Carry Movement, details this very well. Link:

      And nothing brings out unbridled curiosity than when you attempt to ban something and tell people it’s for their own good. My belief is that the antis have absolutely no clue that they are almost %99.99 responsible for the immense popularity of the AR platform.

      I’ll also bet dollars to NYPD donuts that there has been a sharp increase in sales of the Ares Defense SCR rifle in New York City (probably Long Island, too) after the New York Times published its gun confiscation front page editorial.

      1. The AWB also contributed to the rise in availability of small handguns designed for concealed carry. New designs for full size guns couldn’t compete with guns that had pre-ban mags available, so companies designed a bunch of small guns that had standard capacities 10 and under.

  5. My conversion from a mushy “that AWB might work” to a Pro-2A person started by looking at what the results were. Did the AWB do anything positive? How hard was it to get around? I bought an AK clone and five 30 round mags in 1999, some ban. Then my state went to “Shall Issue.” The newspapers will filled with doom and gloom, “wild west” “Blood in the Streets” “fights over parking spaces” and the like. Two years later, none of that happened. But the anti’s found a judge to declare the way the law was passed was improper, and WE had to start all over again. It passed, and after ten years, we still don’t have the dreaded blood! in! the! streets!

    Now I use two criteria for politicians. 2A because this is the simplest way to determine if the politician trusts us lowly peasants? Immigration because I want to know if they believe in the rule of law and fair enforcement of the laws, or if “feelings” trump all?

  6. History defines what an assault rifle is.

    Revolution? could have been a Kentucky Rifle.
    Spanish American war – .30-40 Krag-Jorgensen,
    WWI – the 1903 Springfield,
    WWII – The Garand
    Viet Nam? the M-14 & M-16

    Put a bayonet on it? Voila, Assault Rifle!

    1. Actually the Germans defined the term “assault rifle” in 1944 as a reduced size rifle (for handy carry by an individual) capable of automatic fire, being fed from a detachable box magazine of high capacity and firing a cartridge of reduced power (or intermetate cartridge, between a pistol round and a full power rifle round).

      It is a very, very, very specific term. A “rifle used in war as official issue” or etc. does not even come close to being an assault rifle. The M14 is not an assault rifle, the M1 Garand is not an assault rifle, the Kentucky Long Rifle is not an assault rifle, the M1 Browning Machinegun and BAR are not assault rifles. The stg-44 is an assault rifle, the select fire AK is an assault rifle and the select fire M-16 is an assault rifle. Assault rifles are still effectively banned in this country, starting in 1934 with the NFA (before they were invented), with the final nail in the coffin in 1986.

      To use the term “assault rifle” to describe anything else, or to use the term “assault weapon” at all, is to actively participate in a lie. Pease stop it.

      1. Lyle- just a clarification: A military assault rifle/weapon is selective fire (both semiautomatic and fully automatic operation/multiple shot burst mode), or fully automatic only. Submachine guns (SMGs) and machine pistols are not classified as “assault rifles”. According to The Institute for Research on Small Arms in International Security: “Two key characteristics that identify “assault rifles” are full automatic fire and detachable magazines with a capacity of 20 or more cartridges. These weapons were designed to produce roughly aimed bursts of full automatic fire. While some assault rifles offer an option of semiautomatic fire (i.e., single-shot), all true assault rifles fire at least fully automatic.” The U.S. Army defines an assault rifle as: “Assault rifles are short, compact, selective-fire weapons that fire a cartridge intermediate in power between submachinegun and rifle cartridges.” Part one of the AT&F pub “Identification of Firearms within the Purview of the National Firearms Act” provides some terminology clarification.
        Examples of Assault Rifles are H&K 416, M4 Carbine/CAR-15, AK-74, AK-47, Galil, MP-43/STG-44, M2 Carbine, and other selective fire/automatic only shoulder fired military small arms. Assault rifles are normally chambered for intermediate power cartridges, e.g.: 7.62x39mm, 5.56x45mm, 5.45x39mm, SMGs use handgun cartridges,e.g.,: 9x19mm, .45 ACP, and 38 Super ACP. Semiautomatic only firearms, incapable of automatic fire, available to civilians such as the M1 carbine, M1A rifle, Civilian version FN-FAL, Mini14 (selective fire Mini14’s available to LE & Military only), AK 47 look-a-like derivatives, AR-10, AR-15, SKS Carbine (7.62×39) and etc. are not Assault Rifles, regardless of their military-style look and magazine capacity.

  7. Any weapon or device used in an aggravated assault is in fact an “assault weapon”. This includes a vehicle, baseball bat, axe, knife ,and etc., etc. as well as any firearm used in an assault on a person.

    The term “assault weapon” applied exclusively to certain firearms was made up by the gun ban media to confuse the citizenry.

Comments are closed.