To find a hopeful path forward regarding gun policy requires reviewing the source of America’s dilemma. Our gridlocked debate stems largely from the 1980s and 1990s. Campaigns then to ban handguns (the weapons used in most homicides, suicides and accidents) led most gun owners to conclude: “They plan to take away all our guns.” The NRA’s don’t-give-an-inch strategy emerged, and millions of hunters, home-defenders and sport shooters signed on.
Fast-forward through 20 years of rapid social change, including wildfire growth of the internet and social media, the 9/11 attacks, two foreign wars, varied home-grown terrorists and unending culture war. Now, with grievances and fears abounding, America has more guns than adults and averages one mass shooting per day. Assault rifles are legal in 41 states and teens can buy a wide range of firearms. Yet, the NRA aggressively maintains its No Slippery Slope position, stymieing passage of almost all new regulations.
Many progressives believe the Second Amendment is now irrelevant, so it’s no surprise that gun rights activists stay in battle mode. Though it’s meaning is quite debatable, treating that amendment as sacred text remains a NRA winner.
This situation need not be hopeless, though. Saner policies could very likely be achieved if – and only if – gun enthusiasts had a new, indisputable Constitutional protection of their right to have guns for self-defense and hunting, the uses they care most deeply about. I believe many of them – also sick of the murders of innocents – would then come to support red-flag laws, thorough universal background checks and a mandatory buy-back of assault weapons. Such a national commitment might look something like this: