Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The NRA in Red and Blue

It's been much commented on that there are few, if any, "Conservative Democrats" around any more. That's certainly true here in North Carolina. Given the choice between a conservative Democrat and a conservative Republican, conservative voters here mostly voted Red. Old ties of party loyalty proved themselves too weak to resist the tendency toward ideological purity in the modern Conservative movement.

That wasn't so as recently as the Clinton administration, but the 1994 congressional election that swept Newt Gingrich into power for the first time was also marked by a historic electoral carnage among conservative and moderate Democrats—particularly in the South. And it was that election, more than any other, that put the fear of the National Rifle Association into the hearts of conservative Democrats.

Ever since, Democrats in conservative areas have generally been too afraid of the NRA to back any kind of gun control measure, no matter how weak. And nationally, the Democratic Party has been so afraid of losing its few remaining conservative and moderate members that there has not been a strong push back against the NRA.

But the conservative triumph in the South could mean less influence for the NRA.

Consider this: North Carolina was a swing state in the latest Presidential election, but farther down the ticket, Republicans solidified their hold on electoral power here. The US Congressional delegation, and the state Senate and House, are now solidly red. Congressional districts have been so successfully gerrymandered that Democrats are crowded into a few "ghettos" of large urban areas, or weirdly shaped metro corridors, and their actual proportional strength among voters has been effectively hidden.

What this means is that here in North Carolina there are very few conservative or moderate Democrats in Congress left to fear the NRA. The remaining Democrats are in safely Blue metro/suburban districts.

The effect of this, oddly enough, may be to free up Democrats nationally. In part because of demographic changes elsewhere in the country, the party has managed to stay competitive nationally even though it has mostly lost the South. It has won two Presidential contests, and held on to a majority in the U.S. Senate. Florida and northern Virgina excepted, the swing states are now in the Rust Belt and the West, not the South.

I know this sounds counterintuitive, but the fact that the South is out of play means that the Blue side has less to fear on the issue of gun control. As its constituents in the West, Midwest, and Northeast are increasingly not as interested in pro-gun policies as the old conservative Southern Democrats were, the party can now more safely begin to flout the NRA.

With the recent shock of the killings in Connecticut, Democrats nationally may wake up and find they don't have as much to fear from the NRA as they once did. Maybe they'll stop pulling their punches on gun control for the first time since 1994.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Shun the Gun

Guns are legal, and their ownership protected by the U.S. Constitution, but after the Connecticut school shootings last week, President Obama is right: something has to change. So, if guns are legal and protected, what can one person do?

Here's a suggestion: Shun the gun.

I don't actually oppose gun ownership. As a hiker and outdoors lover, I'm grateful for the wild country set aside as hunting game lands. I know people who honestly love hunting, and whose love of it is truly what I would call "sporting." But even so, it seems to me that gun culture in the country has gotten completely out of control. That's something that can change, and that we should change. And we can do it without passing any new laws.

From a culture that tolerates guns, our country, particularly here in the American South, has changed to one that actively celebrates and glorifies them. Your local Wal-mart probably has a prominent gun section. Outdoors superstores like Bass Sport Shop, Gander Mountain, and Cabelas are all about guns, and no one finds it unusual as they drive by on the nearby superhighway. First-person shooter games dominate the market. Small towns, like mine, have multiple gun shops, with brightly blinking signs advertising their wares. No one thinks twice.

More to the point, few people think twice about neighbors with extensive collections of firearms—people who proudly boast of their guns, who sport aggressive bumper-sticker slogans on their cars ("This home protected by Smith & Wesson"; "My President is Charlton Heston": you've seen them). The mother of the Connecticut shooting suspect was, apparently, among these—a woman who boasted of her guns, and took her children out shooting with her, if one is to believe the press reports.
Years ago, such a "gun nut" would have been looked at askance by "respectable" members of the community.

Maybe it's time more of us started looking askance.

Public gun culture celebrates public threats of armed defiance, glories in aggressive militaristic bluster, romanticizes uncritically elements of popular culture, such as Clint Eastwood movies, that a careful examination shows are usually much more equivocal or ironic about violence than their fans imagine. Popular movies, television shows, and books often imagine dystopias in which guns are the only answer to a society gone mad. The implication is that ours is just such a society, and that the only thing a sane person can do is own a gun for self-protection.

It's crazy, and it has to stop.

Your dentist ought to be ashamed of himself for having gun magazines on his waiting-room table. Your church-going neighbor with gun slogans on the car ought to find him- or herself suddenly alone at church during the coffee hour. The drunk at the party bragging about how he'll go out in a blaze of glory before the President takes his guns away ought to suddenly find he has no audience. The child demanding the first-person shooter game for Christmas ought to find coal in his stocking.

It's time to shun the gun. It's time to make gun ownership private again—something chosen out of necessity or sporting requirements, not a public statement of political defiance. It's time for being law-abiding and "respectable" to be respectable again. Good people shouldn't go around boasting about their arsenals and expect not to be shunned. People who are proud to be "gun nuts" shouldn't be accepted in polite company.

Statistics show that guns in the home increase the likelihood of accident or suicide, but if you feel that you must have a gun to defend your family, that's your right. Still, it's not something you should feel comfortable boasting about. If guns were something to feel self-conscious about, owning them might be less attractive. Such a change in attitudes is something that we can encourage without passing new laws or changing our Constitution.

It would be a good start.