Cenk Uygur, head of the independent media organization, The Young Turks, has started a movement for progressives — to work within the Democratic Party or outside of it if necessary — to “replace every corporate-backed member of Congress and rebuild the party from scratch.” Most of what is included in the platform of the new group, called the Justice Democrats, is a list of things that I can wholeheartedly support: protecting basic rights such as free speech and the right to be treated fairly by the police regardless of race or economic status, promoting the general welfare by guaranteeing education and healthcare to all Americans, and developing renewable energy generation in this country. However, one plank is, to my way of thinking, exactly the kind of thing that will keep the movement from succeeding. And that, to no surprise of readers here, is gun control. The Justice Democrats propose expanded background checks, bans on “assault weapons” and on “high-capacity” magazines, and a “buyback” program to reduce the number of guns in private hands in this country.
It seems to me that we in the gun community have been over this ground before. Been over it, razed it to the ground, and laid waste thereupon. But too many people on the left end of the American political spectrum cling to gun control, and I’m going to argue that this is to the detriment of the effort to achieve progressive goals in this country.
The maps of the 2016 election create the impression that the country is deeply divided if we just look at the colors, red and blue. The state votes for president are especially coarse grained, since we total up the votes of the residents of each state and apportion the electoral votes entirely to whichever candidate received the most — with the exception of Maine and Nebraska. And this creates a map that results in solid red and solid blue. The map of House districts gives the same color scheme — all red or all blue — though it divides up the country into smaller pieces. Even there, however, each district is winner take all.
But if we look at the results of the elections both on the state level and the level of House districts, a more interesting reality emerges. In example after example, the difference in vote totals between the winner and the loser in the House elections is a few thousand or a few tens of thousands. The difference between the votes that Trump received in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania were also within a few thousand, and Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida only a couple of hundred thousand. In terms of polling, this puts the result solidly in the margin of error, and it suggests that small changes in the actions and promises of candidates could easily swing the result to the opposite party.
Now consider the map of support for gun control. People who want to see stricter gun laws are concentrated into the San Francisco and southern California coastal areas, Chicago, and a line running from Washington, D.C. to Boston. The rest of the country has either narrow majorities opposed to more gun laws or regions that are strongly opposed.
My reading of this is that if Democrats would drop gun control and take up the cause of gun rights, that would be enough of a difference to flip district after district and at least several of the swing states to their side. And given the other planks in the Justice Democratic platform — taking power away from the few for the benefit of the many — I can’t help thinking that many of their candidates would win by comfortable margins if they’d stop supporting something in the middle of the country that isn’t wanted.
I would like this new movement to succeed. As Steven Pinker’s book, Better Angels of Our Nature, shows, social institutions like education, healthcare, and the promotion of job opportunities lead to a much less violent society. But if that success comes at the expense of basic rights, it would be a hollow victory.
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