Taking Back the Second Amendment

January 25th, 2006

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There probably is no political issue that progressives handle more poorly than guns. Our problems begin with some basic misconceptions about who owns guns and why they own them.

So let’s get a few facts on the table:

  • Nearly half of the voting population of America has a gun in the home. That’s right — half.
  • And these aren’t hunters. The vast majority of gun owners possess firearms for self-protection, not sport.
  • Gun owners don’t live in trailer parks. In fact, gun owners are generally wealthier and more educated than the rest of the population.
  • They are not right-wingers. Politically, gun owners are only slightly more conservative than non-gun owners. Their views on hot-button culture issues like abortion and gay marriage are just a tick to the right of all other voters. They attend religious services at the same rate as non-gun owners.
  • Most don’t belong to the NRA. Even if the NRA actually has the 4 million members it claims, there are 69 million gun-owners in America.
  • They do, however, vote overwhelmingly Republican. Often that’s because they feel like progressives look down their noses at them. In 2004, John Kerry lost gun owners by 27 points and won non-gun owners by 14 points, a 41-point gap. Al Gore fared even worse with a gap of 44 points. In congressional races the gun gap was 37 points in 2004 and 36 points in 2000.

For progressives, it is not earth-shattering news that they have problems winning the support of gun owners. However, the progressive solution to their gun problems is to simply clam up and not talk about the issue.

But we have found that on the gun issue, silence isn’t golden, it is an admission of guilt. Gun owning voters already have a preconceived notion about where progressives stand on guns, and it is entirely negative.

  • 59% of gun owners say that Democrats do not respect them and their values.
  • 55% of gun owners believe that Democrats “blame law abiding gun owners for America’s crime problem.”
  • And the overwhelming majority of gun owners and non-gun owners believe that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to own a gun — a position that only 15% of Americans believe is shared by Democrats.

Third Way has developed new messaging on guns that is designed to appeal the vast majority of Americans — both gun owners and non-gun owners — that also allows progressives to continue to support important gun safety laws to keep the country safe. It builds off the work that several of us did at Americans for Gun Safety. The basic idea: couple rights with responsibilities.

The new message and set of policies is designed to appeal to the 73% of Americans who are moderate on guns — who believe that the Second Amendment is a right that allows for reasonable restrictions to keep guns out of the wrong hands. It calls for supporting rights and closing dangerous gun law loopholes that criminals and terrorists exploit, as well as indicting the Bush administration for failing to vigorously enforce existing federal gun laws

Our simple message is this:

I take a back seat to no one in support of Second Amendment rights, but those rights do not extend to terrorists and criminals.

Take a look at our paper Taking Back the Second Amendment: Seven Steps Progressives Must Take to Close the Gun Gap.

As always, we are interested in your views.