As mentioned in previous blogs, the advocacy work of gun violence prevention groups is invaluable to passing gun legislation. What can be problematic, however, is when an interest group has a singular focus like gun policy, positions tend to be polarised into extreme opposites. The reaction to the Sandy Hook school shooting is the perfect illustration of this: gun violence prevention groups claimed that tighter gun restrictions were needed to prevent future incidents; gun rights organisations purported that the reason why so many had been killed was the teachers had not been armed with firearms. The purpose of this blog post is to elucidate a way in which the two can work together to achieve progress on gun safety.
One of my interviewees previously acted as an advisor to a GVP interest group and found that the fact that many of these advocates do not own guns makes it harder for gun owners to trust them and their motives. Given there are high levels of public support in the United States for the right to bear arms, GVP groups cannot hope to persuade people by disregarding it. In fact, ignoring such a ‘common sense’ (1) — for those who believe in it — interpretation of the second amendment would likely result in a ‘hegemonic struggle’ (2) for the domination of the ‘individual rights paradigm,’ denoting that every individual has the right to own firearms. An alternative strategy is to instead incorporate a message of a right to the bear arms but there is also a responsibility to ensure that criminals and the mentally ill do not obtain guns. This also means that GVP groups should not shy away from discussing rights, freedoms and the constitution.
This reshaping of ideologies would also involve getting gun owners on board. An activism event held by Mayors Against Illegal Guns in late 2013 had gun owners speaking in favour of universal background checks for all sales (including those at gun shows and private transactions). Notably, those who spoke claimed that universal background checks was a non-partisan issue, appealing to both Republicans and Democrats; it also would not stop law-abiding gun owners procuring firearms. The gun violence prevention groups I interviewed and MAIG are all coalescing on universal background checks. It was claimed that this has the most public support, which is backed up with the results of polls, and also is a relatively ‘uncontroversial’ regulatory measure that politicians and gun owners are more likely to endorse. The ‘rights and responsibilities’ message can be seen clearly in this policy proposal: those who wish to own a gun and meet the criteria will still have the right to do so; whilst there is still a degree of responsibility in ensuring prohibited persons are unable to procure weapons.
[This blog post was put together using the results of interviews with GVP interest groups and other experts in gun policy/framing, as well as participant observation of the MAIG event. Literature about framing was also used to make sense of the findings. The next post will focus on another framing approach that should have some impact.]
- Fairclough, N. (1995) Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical Study of Language. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education Limited.
- Fairclough, N. (1989) Language and Power. London: Longman.
The question in the title relates to the idea raised by a number of YouTube users that campus gun bans violated their individual right to self-defence. The constitutional debate around the second amendment due to the Supreme Court’s ‘Heller’ case was briefly discussed in the post published on the 27th July 2015. This blog will return to this, advancing the argument about the ‘individual rights’ interpretation of the second amendment being entrenched in the notion of concealed carry on campus and self-defence.
To begin with, the Supreme Court ruling ‘Heller versus the District of Columbia’ passed in 2008 centred on an appeal by Dick Heller, a police officer who wanted to keep a handgun in his home for self-defence but was unable to do so due to a ban implemented in the District of Columbia following a sharp increase in gun crime in the 1970s. The Supreme Court narrowly ruled 5-4 that ‘the handgun ban violates the second amendment,’ with the five acceding judges maintaining it protected ‘an individual right to possess a firearm…for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defence within the home.’ The ruling, therefore, favours the ‘individual rights paradigm’ that the constitution circumscribes the rights of individual citizens to own firearms for self-defence; it has subsequently led to debates about whether other bans on owning and carrying guns ‘violate’ the second amendment. This then made its way into the concealed carry on campus debate, with the interest group Students for Concealed Carry maintaining that the concealed carry ban violated state-level legislation, the ‘Colorado Concealed Carry Act,’ and the state constitution’s right to self-defence. As it transpired, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in favour of Student for Concealed Carry and this led to universities in Colorado allowing concealed carry on campuses.
A number of commentators on YouTube drew upon similar lines of argument, claiming that firearm ban on college and university campuses violated their constitutional rights and were denying them a chance to defend themselves. One YouTube user compared carrying firearms to having fire extinguishers in classrooms: a safety precaution in case an emergency was to transpire. These are examples of ‘dogmatic thinking,’ seeking to reinforce current ideological stances that the purpose of the second amendment is to provide protection against threats. (1) To support their argument, a handful of users referred to the Supreme Court ‘Heller’ ruling. Missing from YouTube discussions, however, is the fact that the ruling mandated that bans in ‘sensitive places’ like educational institutions still apply. Further to this, as discussed in the last blog post, the idea of guns on campus is unsettling for a number of YouTube users — the right to be safe is also another aspect of the constitution and something which must also be considered in all debates around this topic.
[Results from YouTube analyses and further reading about the Supreme Court’s ruling on the ‘Heller’ case informed the writing of this post. The next blog will completely wrap up this topic by critically assessing the idea that carrying concealed firearms will allow individuals to defend themselves and others against school shooters and other threats.]
- Lane, R. E. (1966) ‘The Decline of Politics and Ideology in a Knowledgeable Society.’ American Sociological Review 31 (5), 649-662.