By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS – The massive turnouts at the March for Our Lives demonstrate at least two things.
The first is that the demand for action on America’s out-of-control gun violence problem is real, lasting and widespread. The elected officials who ignore it do so at their peril.
The second reality is related and just as important.
If the United States ever does embrace draconian gun laws — and it would be unfortunate if we did — gun owners in this country will look back at the many, many, many opportunities to craft sensible restrictions they threw away because they let zealots such as Wayne LaPierre and Jim Lucas be their voices.
LaPierre is the leader of the National Rifle Association. Lucas is a Republican state representative from Seymour who seems to spend more time focusing on and tending to the NRA’s agenda than on any need or concern from his district.
(Somehow, I doubt that the biggest problem confronting the good people of Seymour is that they just can’t get their hands on enough guns.)
LaPierre says anyone who doesn’t want mentally ill people to have access to firearms — particularly military weapons — hates America and freedom.
Lucas says people who disagree with his radical notions of gun rights — he’s said the Second Amendment should allow private citizens to own nuclear weapons — are evil.
The views of LaPierre and Lucas have dominated public policy discussions for years. We live now in their America, based on their repeated arguments and assurances that the more guns we have the safer we will be.
Mountains of evidence demonstrate that this isn’t true and hasn’t been for quite some time, and, polls reveal, most Americans understand that.
Why, then, have LaPierre’s and Lucas’s stances prevailed — in defiance of both fact and public opinion?
Because of a curious phenomenon in political life.
Even though surveys for several decades have shown widespread support for, say, universal background checks, that support hasn’t coalesced into action.
The supporters for sensible restrictions on gun access may have had more numbers on their side, but the gun devotees had more enthusiasm. The NRA crowd could be counted on to lobby lawmakers and show up at the polls when their wishes were ignored.
Supporters of sensible gun laws didn’t do those things.
This enthusiasm gap allowed the gun lobby to exert influence disproportionate to its numbers.
But that enthusiasm gap is closing.
In fact, it may have closed already.
The cliché is that the school slaughter in Parkland, Florida, created a tipping point and that the voices of young people across the land are reshaping this national debate.
There is truth to that.
Students across America have given effective voice to a truth obvious to everyone but the LaPierres and Lucases – that children shouldn’t have to fear being shot where they sit while studying English.
But changes this sweeping are complex.
An accumulation of factors prompted America’s new fury about guns. The pressure to deal with this national problem, this national tragedy, built over time.
I’ve written about the need to have an honest discussion about America’s gun problem for several years. My position has been simple: Let’s put everything on the table, anything that would help.
- Violent video games.
- Increased school and building security.
- More treatment for mental illness.
- And guns.
Inevitably, any mention that guns should be part of a discussion about gun-related violence elicits howls of protest from Lucas and other members of the rabid NRA amen crowd.
But there’s an increasing undertow of communication from others.
“I’m an NRA member, but these guys don’t speak for me,” one such email said.
“I’m a gun owner, and I shake my head over the things Jim Lucas says. He just doesn’t get it,” another said.
Many others echo that refrain.
Those guys now stand with the kids in the streets, not the LaPierres and Lucases who block the doorway to solving a pressing public problem.
The horror of the shootings helped move moderate gun owners over. So did the students marching and protesting.
But, even more, they were persuaded by the sheer unreasonableness of LaPierre and Lucas, the arrogant unwillingness to consider any suggestion or concern about guns, however rational or well-meant.
In radicalizing their supporters, they also radicalized the opposition.
And in greater numbers.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. Send comments to email@example.com.