The cozy relationship between the entertainment industry and the gun control movement has existed for decades now, and organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety and Brady have specific initiatives like the Everytown Creative Council that are designed to use the influence and amplifying powers of celebrity to boost their gun control messaging and calls to action. Now, in a new interview with Variety, Gabrielle Giffords says wants to use Hollywood to advance her her own agenda.
Stories are important. Elected officials use them to help get their points across, and for centuries artists have used them to inspire, make us understand points of view different than our own and bring people together. Hollywood and the arts are vitally important to helping us through a period of isolation, bitterness and divisiveness.
In other words, Giffords doesn’t just want to cut one of those annoying PSAs where they earnestly look into the camera and repeat the same insipid phrases. She wants to use the storytelling power of Hollywood to aid in the push for new gun laws. It’s smart, honestly. She understand that politics is downstream from culture.
The really interesting part of the Variety interview actually has nothing to do with Hollywood. After all, anti-gun celebrities have been with us for decades, and there’ve been no shortage of pro-gun control plot lines in recent years. What I found really interesting was Gifford’s talk about criminal justice and police reform, and how it relates to gun control.
Police violence is gun violence. And much like other types of gun homicides, Black Americans — especially Black men — are disproportionately affected. We cannot claim to be a nation that offers liberty and justice for all if we let this crisis continue unabated. It’s been proven that high-profile incidents of police brutality also destroy the already strained relationship between law enforcement and communities of color, fueling devastating cycles of gun violence. We must commit to meaningful reform of harmful law enforcement practices and to funding proven community violence-intervention programs.
“Police violence is gun violence” is becoming a bit of a mantra in the gun control movement. Brady says it. Shannon Watts of Moms Demand Action says it. Gabby Giffords says it, and soon Hollywood will be saying it too. Now, this isn’t quite the same as calling for defunding the police, but as Giffords tells Variety, it’s about “reforming” law enforcement practices and providing more funding for non-law enforcement efforts to reduce violent crime. This is an area where the organization is spending more of it’s time and energy, according to the former congresswoman.
An increasing focus of my organization, Giffords, over the past few years has been community violence-intervention programs, which work to directly intervene with the small number of individuals at the highest risk of violence. These targeted programs don’t rely on harmful tactics like mass incarceration, and have been proven extremely effective at reducing violence, often in just a few years. Unfortunately, many of these programs have struggled to keep the lights on during the pandemic, even as intervention workers have been asked to double as front-line health care workers by distributing masks, hand sanitizer and health and safety information in under-resourced communities.
If that sounds familiar, it may be because I talk about efforts like these quite frequently here. I’m a big fan of these efforts, which are clearly constitutional, proven to be effective, and don’t involve restricting anyone’s Second Amendment rights. Honestly, I’m thrilled that this is an increasing focus of what Giffords is trying to do. I just wish they’d commit 100% to it.
Unfortunately, even as Giffords is investing resources into reducing demand for firearms among violent and prolific offenders, she and the organization are still pushing supply-side gun control measures that only add to the powers of police and lead to over-incarceration for non-violent, possessory offenses.
Take this wish list released by Giffords executive director Peter Ambler in response to the storming of the Capitol last week, for example, which includes a ban on firearms at all state capitols (which would do more to prevent law-abiding people from protecting themselves against political violence than it would stop violent mobs); prohibitions on gun possession by people convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes and misdemeanors involving “insurrectionist violence”; universal background checks, more red-flag laws, and making the possession of homemade firearms illegal.
What the list doesn’t call for, though, is also pretty interesting. There was no demand for a ban on so-called assault weapons or high capacity magazines. Not only is that the centerpiece of Joe Biden’s gun control platform, but Biden’s plan actually looks a lot like what Giffords called for in 2018.
- Congress should require all existing assault weapons to be regulated under the National Firearms Act (NFA). This proposal would balance the rights of law-abiding gun owners with the need for increased restrictions on these lethal firearms.
- Congress must also address the future manufacture of assault weapons, either by prohibiting the manufacture of any further assault weapons, as it did in 1986 with machine guns, or requiring future assault weapons to be registered under the NFA.
- Additional resources must also be appropriated to ATF so that it can enforce the NFA with respect to these and other NFA weapons, including resources needed to modernize and upgrade its equipment and technologies. While the NFA imposes a $200 tax on the registration of each NFA weapon, that money currently goes to the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s General Fund, not to ATF. That money should be redirected to ATF to fund its responsibilities under the NFA.
The only real difference between Biden’s plan and Giffords’ is the compensated confiscation option offered by Biden where you can hand over your legally-purchased gun in exchange for some piddly stipend for your trouble and your liberty.
Given the widespread noncompliance that we can expect if this proposal ever comes to pass, I think that one way to fairly describe it would be to call it a mass-incarceration law. For the non-violent, possessory offense of maintaining possession of a gun you legally purchased without registering with the government, you could go to prison for ten years.
This is the exact opposite of the targeted approach that Gabrielle Giffords says she wants to move towards. In fact, it stands in complete contradiction to the community-oriented violence prevention programs like Project Ceasefire. You can’t plausibly claim to want to focus on the most violent and prolific offenders while also criminalizing tens of millions of legal gun owners.
If Gabrielle Giffords is serious about her increasing focus on these targeted programs, now would be a really good time to come out and say something like “We can’t ban our way to safety. Banning our way to safety is another way of saying we can arrest our way to safety, and we know that doesn’t work either.”
I don’t see it happening, unfortunately. Gun control advocates like Giffords and the organization that bears her name are far more likely to continue to try to ignore the fact the movement suffers from this inherent contradiction of wanting to avoid incarceration while also trying to create more felony-level offenses out of the right to keep and bear arms.