Progressives should avoid gun policy debate devolving into culture war

In the aftermath of a series of horrendous shootings there is now enough public attention on the reality of guns and violence in America that there is a real opening to move toward a sane and sensible gun policy in the U.S.  The NRA was even helpful in that respect, coming across as almost comically clueless and evil in their “press conference”, which I put in quotes because unlike a real press conference, no questions were allowed.

Progressives have a chance to influence good gun legislations with sensible requirements, restrictions, and regulations, if we avoid framing this as enlightened northeastern progressives versus stupid southern rednecks.

Both sides frame many issues in this way, although of course the wording is different.  On the left it’s enlightened progressives versus stupid southern white male wingnuts.  On the right it’s Real Americans versus socialists.  But it amounts to the same sort of largely regional culture war trenches.

The dangers of a gun owner backlash should not be underestimated if we allow this to be framed in terms of banning guns.  While the progressive movement has the momemtum and the upper hand with the disarray on the right, the almost comical swing to the extreme right by the GOP, and the results of the last election, there is a very real prospect of a backlash.  Romney lost, but he got 47% of the votes of the American people.  If we overreach on any issue we could find ourselves fighting an idiotic culture war rather than making good gun policy.

We should focus on the obvious and winnable things.  Restrictions on magazine size, a ban on “cop killer” bullets which pierce body armor, more extensive restrictions on where a person can carry a loaded firearm, a resumption of research on gun violence and gun injuries by the CDC, and public availability of BATF data on the weapons used in crimes, so that there’s enough data to make informed decisions,  would all be good places to start.

The internet in some respects let the genie out of the bottle in terms of driving culture war rhetoric to the extreme.  The crazy secession petitions after the elections unleashed a barrage of northern progressives shouting “Let’em secede”.  Every excess of the Tea Parties likewise prompts visions of obese, racist, southerners among many progressives.  This can’t be avoided altogether, and I find myself tempted to fall into it, even though I’m a 61 year old white southern male.  It’s fun to tribalize politics, and parody the other side.

But it’s not a good idea from a political perspective, especially on a hot button cultural issue at a time when the progressive majority it just taking form.

I’m a Georgia progressive Democrat.  I have every intention of seeing Georgia become a progressive stronghold before I die.  We’re not going to get there by deliberately frightening and insulting white southerners as a group.  We have to, without sacrificing a single one of our core progressive principles, figure out ways to reach out to a segment of the population which should be part of the progressive coalition.

The issue of sane gun policy presents a good opportunity to test ways of doing this.