When will the Brady Center get out the big guns?
July 1, 2013
To All American gun owners: Dan Gross does not want to take away your guns, nor does he want to establish a national gun registry.
In fact, the president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence supports the Second Amendment, with a few "reasonable" restrictions such as universal criminal-background checks on lawful purchases. And the polls say more than 90 percent of Americans agree with Gross.
So with such broad agreement on background checks, why can't Congress pass legislation? This was the central question in an Aspen Ideas Festival conversation Friday between Gross and Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for The Atlantic.
According to Gross, the point man for the point organization in the gun-control movement, the reasons for the lack of legislative will are "intensity and mythology."
By "intensity," he means the passion that gun-rights proponents bring to their cause. As one audience member put it, when state or federal legislators are weighing any piece of gun-control legislation, "they hear six-to-one from the other side," meaning gun-rights advocates.
"There is an intensity gap between the 90 percent of Americans who support sensible gun laws and the very small minority of Americans who don't," he said.
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By "mythology," Gross means the myth that any legislator who supports gun control will be targeted for destruction by the National Rifle Association in the next election. Gross insists that this indeed is mythology and that the NRA is not nearly as effective at ending political careers as it purports to be.
No NRA representative was present at Friday's discussion. Goldberg did say that the organization had been invited, but "they do not like to debate."
Still, Gross admitted, the mythology continues, and the NRA wins legislative battle after battle by depicting any gun-control effort as the first step toward a national gun registry or the government literally taking people's firearms — or both. The strange thing, Gross said, is that 74 percent of NRA members actually support background checks.
"They do misrepresent what the overwhelming majority of their members support, from a policy perspective," Gross said.
Instead, the NRA leadership is engaged in a publicity effort to sell more guns.
"They're a corporate lobby for the gun industry," he said. "They use ideology to express their point of view."
This statement was borne out by an audience member, who described himself as a gun owner and hunter. He said most of his friends and hunting buddies support safety-oriented restrictions on gun ownership.
"I feel the NRA represents our interests, really, the way the Westboro Baptists represent the interests of free speech," he said.
He suggested, along with several other audience members, a more openly aggressive political posture for the Brady Center — depicting the NRA as a "toxic" organization, attacking the NRA's gun-industry funding, pursuing more aggressive gun-control legislation. Clearly, the NRA doesn't cede any ground to the gun-control movement, so why does the Brady Center cede so much ground to its opposition?
As Goldberg put it, "I wonder if someday you guys aren't going to wake up and say, 'You know what, we can't beat NRA absolutism with Brady moderation.'"
Gross responded that he doesn't see the Brady mission as moderate, aggressive, conservative or liberal. His legislative focus is simply to pursue the laws that will save the most lives. Background checks fit that profile because, at the moment, "40 percent of gun sales go without a background check," chiefly from gun shows and the Internet. And that puts guns in the hands of bad guys.
Criminal-background checks, Gross said, actually would be far more effective in saving lives and protecting people than a ban on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines.
"I don't look at background checks as being soft," he said. "I see it as being very aggressive."
The real problem for gun-control advocates seems to be that the NRA, though its rhetoric speaks for a minority of Americans, approaches every legislative fight as an all-out war. Even though most Americans agree with the Brady Center, they'll send one email to a congressman and then leave the trench warfare to Gross.
Gross said the Brady Center and its allies must reframe the issue — from a knee-jerk response to the latest school shooting to a broader effort to strengthen public safety.
"We are going to win when the American public looks at this issue, not from the perspective of being a gun owner or a non-gun owner, or a Democrat or Republican, or a blue-stater or red-stater but as a decent human being with a concern for our collective health and safety as a nation," Gross said.