Gun rights activists keep pressure on GOP lawmakers.
|Student activism 1968|
Young people, and their Baby Boomer grand parents, joined March For Our Lives rallies. They sense there is a change coming, an anti-gun wave, led by young people.
They may not see it, but there is entrenched opposition to that wave. Senator Alan DeBoer reports on NRA pressure on GOP officeholders.
This is student activism season. Blossoms on the trees, students rallying in parks and streets advocating a cause that seems dead simple correct to them: it is wrong to shoot and kill kids in schools. Everyone agrees with that.
What people do not agree with is what to do about it. If anything.
I know the season. I was in my own little version of it back in the day. Harvard in the spring, 1968, fifty years ago this week.
The issue was the war in Vietnam and the corollaries of grievances that sprang from that, including opposition to the draft and ROTC--and then the ripening "women's liberation" issue unleashed by the general activism. We didn't just want to end the war. We wanted co-education and the equal treatment of men and women in college admissions and entry into the professions.
Everyone I knew associated in any way with Harvard agreed with us, we thought, but I recognized that "out there" in the neighborhoods of blue collar Boston, people did disagree. Nixon had his "silent majority." I had some tiny sense of non-verbal "messaging" clear back then. I kept my hair semi-short, by the standards of the day. I was "Clean for Gene." I recognized that really long hair on students sent a message of defiance to grownups, and that that message worked against our cause. On campus I wore a Harvard Strike T shirt, size medium and then shrunk to fit. I have saved it under glass. It is too small for me now.
It is the turn of a different set of youth with different issues. They may think they are winning and so might their parents and grandparents in the March for our Lives crowds. They sense that wave. Former Supreme Court judge John Paul Stevens suggested repealing the 2nd Amendment. Now that moves the goalposts. Instead of controversy regarding reducing the size of the magazine in an AR-15 from 30 down to 10 rounds to give school kids a better chance to run while a shooter inserts a new magazine, this is a cause big enough to inspire activists.
Democratic politicians are speaking out more firmly. There are more attacks on the NRA. Rick Santorum says the solution is for students to learn emergency medical interventions and the late night comics laugh and scoff.
And look at the crowds. New York, DC, San Francisco, Chicago, and right here in Medford and Ashland Oregon. It feels like a movement.
They face opposition they don't see.
State Senator Alan DeBoer gave some insight when he described to me his experience in Salem. Oregon legislators, meeting in a special short session, debated and then passed a law closing a loophole in the law that banned people convicted of domestic violence from buying or possessing a firearm. Previously the law described spouses, but the law was broadened to include non-spouses in a relationship or co-habitating. It was called the "boyfriend loophole" and the hole got plugged.
It ended up passing, on a near party line vote.
The NRA was watching developments in Oregon closely, and they opposed the bill as it was written in committee by Democrats. Alan DeBoer said they sent out the word: do not vote for that bill or face the wrath of the NRA and a near-certain Republican primary battle. He said they showed they meant business. They sent out an alert to their members. The membership was ready. He said he could look at his smart phone's email program as it beeped notifications of new emails--another one every 30 seconds. Email after email from gun rights voters with the same message: "Don't you dare support that."
"Gun rights voters" is the phrase DeBoer uses. He uses the word "Democratic" as the adjectival form for the Democratic Party. DeBoer uses respectful language. It is part of what gives DeBoer his nice-guy reputation.
DeBoer said that the Republican caucus negotiated with the NRA to see if there was some form of the bill that would allow Republicans to support it. The officeholders understood the political peril of opposing a law to stop boyfriend domestic abusers from buying handguns. It could look bad in ads if someone voted against the bill, which DeBoer said was a big part of the reason it moved forward. Democrats didn't simply like the policy; they liked the politics of it. The bill put incumbents into a bind: look bad to voters or look bad to the NRA.
Negotiations went back and forth: what about this word, how about if we changed that word? In the end, the NRA allowed very little latitude, and most Republicans voted no. Better to risk the uncertain wrath of voters in the general election than face the certain organized opposition of the NRA in a primary. The NRA does not lead a majority of the people, but they do lead a cohesive group of people highly motivated and politically sophisticated on that one issue.
They have leverage.
The exercise of that leverage is nearly invisible to people outside the circle where that leverage really counts--among GOP candidates and lawmakers at the point where they shape a law and support it--or not. The people marching last Saturday were sure they were right and were sure "the people" were with them.
Some of the people were with them, but not all of the right people.