Let’s Pry Open Those Cold, Dead Hands

To defeat the gun lobby, gun-control activists need to get out of late-night local cable and embrace the Internet

BY Laura S. Washington

Email this article to a friend

The lethal success of the gun lobby is rooted in its ability to sway legislators of both Democratic and Republican persuasion.

The national news polls suggest that the majority of Americans support more gun control.

You wouldn’t know it from the mail I get.

Whenever I write about the plague of gun violence, I get a huge blowback from the gun lovers of America.

The rabid response of the gun lobby is damning, but impressive. They out-gun, out-email, gun-control advocates by more than 20 to one. Their ability to organize a rapid response is exactly the opposite of FEMA. The gun army, made up almost exclusively of white men from suburban and rural areas, is loaded for bear.

The People of the Gun are beating their drums on websites from Keepandbeararms.com in Washington State, to alphecca.com in Vermont. Every time a plea for gun restrictions surfaces on the Internet, the gun stalwarts furiously post hundreds of missives in homage to the Second Amendment.

Through organizing, the Internet, and plunking down plenty of cold hard cash, the gun lobby has proven it is ready for primetime. Meanwhile, its opponents are languishing in the wee-hours of late-night local cable.

After last spring’s massacre at Virginia Tech, ABC News polled adults nationwide and asked: “Do you favor or oppose stricter gun control laws in this country?” Sixty-one percent favored them, 36 percent were opposed and 3 percent were “unsure.”

That majority is represented by well-meaning citizen groups, like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and graying civil rights stalwarts like the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and his Rainbow/PUSH. Their tactic is to organize anti-gun marches and rallies to push for stricter gun laws and penalties. But here’s a news flash: No one is listening.

Marches may generate publicity, but they don’t influence decision makers. If we are going to keep pistols and assault rifles away from the playlots, family shopping malls and our colleges and universities, progressives must “bare” our arms.

The lethal success of the gun lobby is rooted in its ability to sway legislators of both Democratic and Republican persuasion. Democratic deer hunters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio are susceptible to NRA dictates, forcing many faint-of-heart, national Democratic candidates to eschew gun control.

The majority’s collective voice is being ignored. The anti-gun movement must mount a strong response.

Gun control activists: start playing the other side’s game by embracing technology. Progressives: harness the Internet and aim it at Democratic and independent voters.

Fight fire with emails and a focused response. Gun control advocates should piggyback on the success of online activist groups like MoveOn.org and MeetUp.com. These efforts have raised millions to promote political candidates and the antiwar movement. The money is there. Barack Obama, for one, has raised over $17 million on the Internet. Marches and protests are fine, but it is imperative to devise a response that is sophisticated and symmetrical to the gun lobby’s tactics.

The NRA has built a juggernaut of a website that networks gun advocates from hither to yon. A modest investment and some digital ingenuity could pave the way for digital networks in black churches, sororities and other civic groups in black urban America to fight back.

Women and the African-American church–get them behind the keyboard, and you’ll unleash a thunderous counterpunch to the gun lovers’ old one-two.

African Americans have plenty of motivation. According to a recent report by the U.S. Justice Department, nearly half the people murdered in the United States in 2005 were black. Most lived in cities and were felled by guns. While blacks make up about 13 percent of the nation’s population, they comprised 49 percent of all murder victims.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger knows the numbers. In June, Pfleger and Jackson were arrested for criminal trespassing during a protest outside a gun shop in a Chicago suburb. Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina’s, an African-American Catholic Church on Chicago’s South Side, has been crusading for stricter regulation of gun shops and manufacturers. Pfleger is in agony over the 34 school-age children in Chicago who were killed by gun violence in the first six months of 2007.

St. Sabina’s 2,200-member congregation is 70 percent female. Pfleger, who happens to be white, is recruiting the pastors at neighboring churches to get into the fight. “The church should be leading the path,” he says. “Women are much more vocal. I believe partly because of their sensitivity to the murder of children. Historically, women are much more progressive. That’s why churches are so vital, because women make up the main membership.”

Amen, Father.

Get those ladies organized, and watch out!

Laura S. Washington, an In These Times contributing editor, is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and political analyst for ABC 7-Chicago.

View Comments