Each year, Americans continue to witness hundreds of mass shootings. The scenario has become almost routine: a mass shooting occurs, politicians vent their outrage and offer platitudes, and the news cycle continues until the next shooting occurs. And now, after the horrific events at Uvalde, nearly a decade after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, it seems almost nothing will be done to improve gun safety. What can progressives do to create meaningful change and ultimately ensure that popular and national support for new gun legislation becomes a reality?
Inaction on gun violence seems to be a mainstay of American culture, and it seems many lawmakers simply lack the appetite to address the issue, especially given the powerful influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA). and voices of an outspoken gun-toting minority. owners. In this kind of environment, how do you continue to work on an issue that is so structurally difficult?
Moulitsas welcomed Volsky to the show to share his deep knowledge of the gun law reform movement, especially at this politically charged time. Acknowledging the difficulties the movement faces, Volsky highlighted specific and intersectional challenges that are important to focus on:
There is an amendment that creates challenges, there are structural challenges within the Senate that make progress really difficult — of course I’m talking about the filibuster and the overrepresentation of rural states. And then there’s a very successful and powerful lobby that was able to take an issue and really generate an entire identity around it. So it’s not just about the weapon. That’s all the gun represents in terms of masculinity, in terms of racism, in terms of conservative values. These are difficult mountains to climb.
Working to change gun laws has been an ongoing mission for Volsky and Guns Down America over the past decade, and Volsky outlined some important ways he takes care of his mental health to ensure he can continue to give everything in combat. In particular, he noted that he spent very little time following or reading the personal stories of victims of gun violence and deliberately avoided details of the shooting or the names of the shooters. “[This is how] I kind of carry on and make sure I’m not always in a fetal position crying somewhere,” he said. “I’m really trying to focus on: what strategy can I develop? What political strategy, advocacy strategy, can I put in place to move forward on this issue? To change the system that allows this kind of carnage to happen. produce ? “
Volsky also spoke about how moments like Uvalde are so important because they highlight and demand leadership that is almost always lacking on the issue of gun violence every other day of the year. Important Democratic figures like Pres. Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promise Americans, when courting votes, that they will prioritize gun violence prevention and fight for progress.
Yet when they have the power to make meaningful progress on this issue, they choose not to, Volsky pointed out, adding that this has been the source of such incredible and deep frustration:
At this point, I don’t care what you have to say. We don’t need you to comfort the nation every time. I mean, it’s nice. But what we would like… is a clear and tangible plan of what you will do to help move this issue forward. And the fact that the White House has chosen to make this president a mere spectator who has completely outsourced the work of reaching legislative agreement or doing things through executive action to other people , and instead decided it’s better to be a cheerleader asking others to take action, or explaining to reporters all the things he can’t do, that’s frankly a shame on me.
According to Volsky, gun control advocates are frustrated that Biden didn’t even create a White House Office for Gun Violence Prevention to simply explore the problem and potential solutions. In fact, he has done little more than offer words of sympathy, let alone take responsibility for creating the change he calls:
He chose, after those two shootings, not to describe the concrete steps he would take to help us build safer communities. And he allowed Congress to take a two-week vacation, rather than bringing them all in and using those 30 years of experience he told us he had in bringing Democrats and Republicans together to get things done. But none of that matters anymore. None of this, apparently, was real as far as this question was concerned.
What shocks me the most right now is that other voices in my movement and other voices in the broader progressive movement don’t expect him to do more. That he gets a full pass for not having any type of plan. To have no vision or strategy while Americans are dying, while children are dying. And I think that’s very unique to this problem – that if we had some sort of foreign attack, if something suddenly happened with the weather, you would expect this president to actually do things, at the instead of just saying things… the problem is there’s just no muscle memory on this. There’s no muscle memory of what the action actually looks like. And what I’ve been arguing for the past few weeks is: it’s his responsibility to change that script and create that kind of muscle memory.
“If a politician can’t accept 90% support for background checks etc., and can’t translate that support into tangible political pressure, then he may not be a very good politician,” Volsky said.
“Isn’t that the story of the Democratic Party?” Moulitsas joked.
“How come so many Americans want to see background checks and we still don’t have [them]? Our Democratic leaders fail to fight every time. They choose not to fight over this issue… [or] investing in the communities closest to the pain… [if they at least tried] to get something tangible they may fail, but they can turn to voters and say, “we tried,” Volsky added.
The campaign to make gun rights and the identity of gun ownership so important took decades, but it was ultimately very successful. Volsky noted that attitudes have changed historically – the result of years of NRA propaganda and marketing by gun manufacturers. It was undoubtedly a systematic decision, he added, to link gun ownership to concepts of control, personal rights and freedoms, and masculinity. “[We need to] creating the space where identity is so much harder to eliminate [at] that a kind of political preference… [and] figure out how to create an identity around security. But bringing the conversation back to a security identity has proven useful, and gives me Volsky hope that it is possible to return attitudes to what they were, despite a lot of work.
Moulitsas asked about the factors that make American resistance to gun laws so fierce. As Volsky said, it is difficult to escape the unique American history that is built on the conquest of other peoples and lands – a history that brought in the guns, first to subjugate the Native Americans, then African Americans who were brought here as slaves. . The gun also played a key role in the push west, helping white Americans wipe out entire indigenous communities and pushing a xenophobic narrative about self-defense against the “savage” other:
It was during this time, particularly in the 1850s and 1860s, that firearms became something of a mass production and sold in a much larger fashion. And some of America’s early manufacturers recognized very quickly that there was real power in wrapping the gun in this notion of “Manifest Destiny” as the country expanded westward. In the sense, in particular, of urbanization, of defining the gun owner as the individual who will protect you from “those immigrants” who will attack you and get you killed. This robust individuality on which this American myth is based.
Manufacturers’ marketing departments realized early on, Volsky said, that they could sell more guns if they imbued their sales pitches with that kind of imagery, that kind of mythology. So they did it deliberately over the decades. Combining this type of marketing with our history was an explosive combination, and looking at the history of our nation from its inception through the civil rights movement and the Jim Crow era, it becomes even clearer how weapons guns were used to subjugate African Americans and other oppressed communities quite brutally as they struggled for power. Thus, the complex and charged notion that gun ownership is a political identity, according to Volsky, makes advocating for more restrictive gun laws particularly difficult:
You’re fast forwarding into modern times, and I think you realize very quickly that even still here we are, in 2022 you can’t dissociate gun ownership – especially for people for whom it’s about political identity – notions of masculinity, notions of white power… it’s all woven together. And until we can understand as a movement, as a country, how you can separate those different notions, we’re really going to have that challenge.
The history of militias and gun rights also created the ideological foundation for the January 6 events, Volsky said. He also added that lobbying American businesses, especially grocery store chains that often donate to lawmakers who oppose gun control, could be the last push needed to create real change.
Reflecting on this crucial and ongoing conversation about gun control and how to create real change and enact policies to save lives, Moulitsas reminded the audience of the importance of voting.
“The midterm elections are elections based on the intensity of the voters – how much people care. And we have to care about that more than the Republicans,” he urged. . We do not have the choice. »
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