Guns and America's 'ownership' politics

Why is gun sanity so elusive? Forget the "hard stuff" like a crackdown on assault rifles or high-capacity magazines ("hard stuff" even though both are supported by a strong majority of Americans) but even stronger background checks -- supported by roughly 90 percent of the electorate and backed once upon a time by a not-so-whackado NRA -- looks less and less likely, even after 20 first-graders were slaughtered in Connecticut classrooms. Jonathan Tamari of the Inquirer had a good piece today analyzing why other long stalled progressive goals like gay marriage and immigration reform are moving, but guns...not so much:

And when it comes to voting patterns, there has long been an "intensity gap" between supporters of gun rights and gun control, Dimock said.

Nearly one in four voters who call gun rights a top priority has donated money to the cause, against 5 percent of those who prioritize gun control, according to a Pew poll released in January.

In the last election cycle, gun- rights organizations and advocates gave $4.2 million directly to federal candidates, parties, and outside spending groups, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. And that doesn't count more than $25 million the National Rifle Association spent independently.Groups and individuals backing gay and lesbian rights gave $5.5 million. For gun-control groups, the comparable giving was $5,036.

This is most certainly true, although I think it's a little more complicated. For one thing, immigration reform isn't moving because of money but because both parties are competing for a fast-growing Latino vote. Looking at the other issues, I think the key factor is not so much dollars as what I would call "ownership." By that, I mean the different between whether an idea is just something you passively "support" or whether it's in your face, a part of your day-to-day existence.

The people who care most passionately about same-sex marriage are, not surprisingly, gays and lesbians -- to many of them the fact that most jurisdictions do not permit them to marry their partner is a denial of a fundamental human and civil right. A majority of Americans are not gay, but, as we transition to a world where most homosexuals live openly, enough other folks came to see this right denied to a family member (see Portman, Rob) or a close friend, public opinion flipped quickly. Opponents -- who aren't gay or who don't think they see this situation in their everyday life -- are just not going to be as passionate.

On guns, though, progressives are losing because the people with guns in their daily lives are...gun owners. The bill of goods they've been sold by the NRA -- that big bad government wants to take away the gun or guns that they already have -- burns deeply for them. Supporters of gun-sanity measures are a mixed bag -- some do deal with gun violence on a regular basis, as residents of crime-bitten inner city neighborhoods -- but many are suburbanites who don't own guns, who live in relatively safe areas and who only "confront" gun violence as breaking news on their TV. As much as they swear otherwise after every Newtown or Virginia Tech, they will never match the staying power of gun owners (and the financial support that comes from gun manufacturers.) Gun-sanity supporters will have to "own" the mental concept of a safer society as passionately as gun advocates own their Bushmaster or Smith and Wesson.

In other words, they will have to defeat basic human nature.