Hillary Clinton made clear in the first Democratic Party presidential debate that she’s ready to take on the NRA. “This has gone on too long, and it’s time the entire country stood up against the NRA,” she declared. If you believe the level of gun violence in America is unacceptable, this was music to your ears. Clinton is leading the charge against the NRA, and that’s a good thing, right?
Maybe not. Clinton erred by attacking the NRA when she should have focused on the issue of gun violence. In doing so she poked a sharp stick at a very big, combative bear that has lots of money. Now that bear is bellowing, and the fight is on.
Clinton lost sight of the real issue and has engaged in a personal fight with the NRA. Yes, it’s easy to say the NRA is wrongheaded on the positions it takes, but the NRA isn’t the issue. Gun violence is the issue. The NRA is just a vocal opponent.
When you personalize an issue, two bad things happen: your message gets lost, and the people on the other side of the issue respond emotionally. Clinton talked about gun control and a gun buy-back program that Australia put in place in the late 1990s. What did the NRA hear? “Hillary Clinton supports Australia-style gun confiscation.” She never said anything about confiscating guns, and I can’t imagine how guns could ever be confiscated in America, but confiscation is what the NRA heard, and the threat of gun confiscation is the message the NRA is spreading.
What happens now? Both sides will be talking at each other. The language will likely get more inflammatory and degenerate into more personal attacks. No meaningful conversation will take place. We’ve had very little meaningful conversation to date about guns, and Clinton’s approach almost guarantees there will be none in the future.
Clinton had the cart in front of the horse. She talked about a remedy, gun control, without first articulating what’s behind all the gun violence we have in American. It’s likely she doesn’t know. We have so many different type of gun violence—serial killings, domestic shootings, kids being shot accidentally—and each type calls for a different set of measures. Still, Clinton talked about gun control—a broad term that means different things to different people—as a cure-all for gun deaths, which causes the NRA to shriek about the Second Amendment being under attack.
No one has ever accused the NRA of being reasonable, and perhaps the NRA never will be, but what good does it do to attack the NRA? The goal isn’t to dismantle the NRA but to begin a national discussion about how we can reduce the number of guns deaths, which is hard to do when the gun grabbers and gun nuts (terms coined by Adam Winkler, author of “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America”) are yelling at each other.
Even if the NRA’s leadership never yields to reason, a number of gun owners might. Why risk losing their support by inciting the NRA and empowering it to message the public with doomsday talk that might persuades otherwise reasonable gun owners to side with the NRA.
There’s a second error with Clinton’s approach. It dismisses the concerns gun owners have about gun rights and personal safety, things that gun grabbers find hard to understand, if they ever make the effort to do so. But understanding those concerns is a necessary step in effecting change.
Stephen R. Covey, author of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” suggests that we “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Only when both sides understand and respect each other’s concerns can we move toward common ground. Attacking a person who has a different point of view never results in progress.
But maybe Clinton isn’t really interested in reducing violence. Targeting the NRA might be just a strategy in distancing herself from her opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders, who seems less inclined to see guns as a problem. Maybe Clinton was just trying to rally the gun grabbers for their votes. She wouldn’t do that, would she?
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Jack D’Aurora writes for considerthisbyjd.com
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