One of these days we are going to lose our right to own guns. The Second Amendment won’t save us. The statistical correlation between concealed carry permits and crime rates won’t save us. The NRA’s money and pressure won’t save us. The politicians we rely upon will abandon our cause. They will leave us with nebulous promises to come back and revisit the issue when they have the votes.
What conservatives should have learned in this long struggle with the forces of collectivism — that weeping mothers trump sound policy — still eludes us.
There was a time when the auto industry was as untouchable as the gun lobby is today. In the 1960s Ralph Nader’s book, Unsafe at any Speed, was the catalyst for federal auto safety legislation which was the springboard for federal standards for emissions, fuel efficiency and speed limits. Conservatives would show up for Congressional hearings with reams of statistics and eloquent arguments about the limits of government and Ralph Nader would schedule a press conference featuring a crying mother and a bloody fender is how a veteran of Washington politics recalled it to me. Nader labeled cars Detroit was manufacturing as “psycho-sexual dreamboats” and argued that it was the car not the driver that mattered in accidents. Ralph Nader didn’t need statistics or peer reviewed studies. He had people he could point to that would benefit from a change in the laws. Your right to not wear a seat belt be damned.
It didn’t help that GM hired detectives to spy on Nader and generally managed to make themselves look like slimy creeps in front of the entire nation.
It is popular in conservative circles to say that politics follows the culture. That adage also operates in reverse. Through federal legislation, Ralph Nader changed the entire automobile culture of America in such a way that it is impossible to imagine a return to seat belts not being standard equipment on cars, and no federal regulation of speed limits, emission or fuel economy standards. Even with improved vehicle design what conservative would dare make the case for voluntary seat belt usage? Nader’s victory was so comprehensive it changed our behavior in shopping for cars (comparing dubious MPG numbers that themselves are based on wishful fiats from the feds) and in how we drive (see how far you can back out of your garage without fastening your seat belt before your passenger reminds you to buckle up).
The same dynamic can happen with guns. What once was an unassailable industry with deep roots in American identity will become a ward of the state. And if it does the “conservative” position will be for federally funded and managed antique gun stores where you can handle a gun under the watchful eye of a federal supervisor who might even let you fire one if you have the proper clearance. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Heller won’t matter. It will be cast aside in a drive to “do something” to protect our children. The words of conservative icons such as Robert Bork, who once wrote that the issue of gun control is one of policy of not constitutionality, will be used to show gun confiscation is a reasonable bipartisan issue that only zealots could oppose.
We know the nature of man so we know there will be more Sandy Hooks. Conservatives need to be prepared. Crime stats and FBI figures will not carry the day against a culture that has abandoned reason, empiricism and tradition. Sending cultural aliens onto Leftwing cable outlets to make our case will only serve to make us look pathetically and dangerously anachronistic.
If our policies work (they do) and if they benefit citizens while allowing the best combination of liberty and accountability (they do) then we should have scores of people lining up to tell the story for us (we don’t). We have to get clear that winning people matters as much or more than winning arguments. When the Left comes for our guns our best advocate will be a smiling mother of four standing proudly behind her healthy, unmolested children while holding a Glock.
Author Wendell Talley
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