Gun control activists aren't swaying voters, and this argument is one reason why

(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

It’s shaping up to a be pretty brutal Election Day for gun control activists, with Republicans looking like a near-certainty to take control of the House and in solid contention to regain the majority in the Senate as well. At the state level, none of the governor’s who’ve signed Constitutional Carry into law who are up for re-election are looking at defeat; in fact, the closest races are in Texas and Georgia, where Greg Abbott and Brian Kemp appear to be pulling into double-digit leads over Robert Francis O’Rourke and Stacey Abrams. Gun control activists like Peter Ambler of Giffords are trying out a little pre-election spin about this campaign cycle proving to Democrats that it’s safe to campaign on gun control, but I honestly don’t think they’re going to be in much of a mood to celebrate next Wednesday.

For months now gun control groups have been advising Democrats to run on a message of “gun control is being tough on crime” in an attempt to deflect from the Defund the Police positions of many progressives, but that narrative has failed to convince voters, who still broadly favor the GOP by a sizable margin when it comes to who they trust more on the issue. As Democratic pollster Stanley B. Greenberg recently described, that messaging isn’t resonating with the electorate.

The Democrats had so little credibility on crime that any message I tested this year against the Republicans ended up losing us votes, even messages that voters previously liked.

Here is the Democratic message I tested in July, culled from Democratic campaigns: It included Democrats declaring “gun violence” a “public health crisis,” allocating billions to state and local law enforcement, prosecuting more criminals, banning assault weapons, and not defunding the police. It lost to the Republican crime message by 10 points and cost us 2 points in the Democratic margin. Democrats can only be heard if they address their police problem.

In my Labor Day survey, I tested the exact police message that I developed with the team of pollsters last year, focusing again on respecting and funding, not defunding the police, including urgent reforms. It defeated the Republican crime message by a stunning 10 points, yet we still lost a point in the margin among those who heard it.

With Democrats so out of touch on crime and the police, just discussing crime cost Democrats.

And discussing gun control isn’t helping either, despite the protests by activists like Ambler.

The “gun control is crime control” argument isn’t the worst bit of messaging from anti-gun activists, however. It’s this:

Kenneth Mitchell was shot to death when he intervened in a fight as he was leaving the bar on Super Bowl weekend of 2005.

Seventeen years later, Brenda Mitchell, a pastor, is still fighting to restrict the sale of guns so that other mothers don’t go through the same suffering.

“Our rights, our safety and our freedoms are on the ballot,” said Mitchell, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America in Chicago and a fellow with the Everytown Survivor Network. “And the contrast couldn’t be more clear. I’m fighting to pass laws proven to save lives to honor my son. The other side is fighting to protect profits for gun manufacturers with no regard to public safety.”

There are variations of this argument of course. It might not be the profits of gun makers that you’re putting ahead of people’s lives. It could just be that you support children being massacred if it means you don’t have to give up your gun. That’s what Newton Action Alliance head Po Murray told my friend and Bearing Arms contributor Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina was one of the children murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018.

In a statement to Florida’s Voice, Petty said:

“Po’s original assertion that if you don’t support an “assault weapons” ban then you support children being massacred is ridiculous on its face. It’s not surprising that she responded to me saying she believes I want children massacred. It’s was a moment of honesty from an authoritarian that will stop at nothing to force you to live according to her values.”

Ryan Petty to Florida’s Voice

Florida’s Voice received the following response from Po regarding her Tweet:

I honestly didn’t know he was the father of a Parkland victim and when I found out it was too late. The vitriolic responses started flooding in. I thought he was another racist gun extremist like the ones who often respond to my tweets […] We know now that AR15s are the weapons of choice for school shooters to hunt and massacre children in schools and other mass shooters to hunt anyone anywhere. Therefore, it is my opinion that people either support the assault weapons ban or support the status quo of school shooters using weapons of war to decapitate children in classrooms.

If that’s truly Po Murray’s position then I don’t see how she could support any politician who calls for anything less than the complete ban and confiscation of every semi-automatic rifle in the country; a position that few, if any, Democrats outside of Robert Francis O’Rourke are willing to take.

But let’s take Murray’s position to its (il)logical conclusion. Murray’s incorrect about the frequency of rifles being used as murder weapons in active shooting incidents versus handguns, but for the sake of argument we can pretend that its true. Further, let’s posit that Murray is somehow able to rid the country of every semi-automatic rifle without provoking widespread civil disobedience and an utter breakdown in authority. What then? Are deranged individuals and committed killers just going to sit on their hands? Of course not. They’ll use handguns instead. And what will Murray’s argument be then? It’s her “opinion that people either support a handgun ban or support the status quo of school shooters using easily concealable firearms to blow holes into children in classrooms”?

Or, to put it another way, since handguns are the most common firearm used in crime, anyone who doesn’t support taking the steps necessary to imposing a handgun ban (including packing the Supreme Court full of pro-gun control justices, overturning the Heller decision, and confiscating several hundred million firearms) supports the status quo of violent criminals using guns to murder innocent men, women, and children.

There are tens of millions of Americans who are opposed to the ideology of advocates like Murray and Mitchell; not because they’re cold-hearted misanthropes who don’t give a damn about anyone other than themselves or their guns, but because they don’t believe that criminalizing a fundamental right makes any of us safer. Murray’s position turns anyone and everyone who disagrees about the utility or constitutionality of a gun ban into a grotesque monster; even those who know firsthand the horror of losing a child to a mass murderer.

Whether Murray actually is actually delusional enough to believe that herself or is just cynically trying to convince others to buy in, it’s not a message that’s going to resonate with most Americans. Hardcore supporters of gun control? Of course. Everyone else, though, not so much. Many non-gun owners (at least those who live outside of anti-gun bastions like New York, D.C., or San Francisco) know someone who owns an AR-15. They know someone who’s not in favor of gun control. And they know that those friends, co-workers, or family members aren’t the selfish sociopaths that Murray needs them to be. They might even still be in favor of a ban on so-called assault weapons, but that doesn’t mean they believe their sister, nephew, or husband is perfectly comfortable with the murder of school children.

Of course, with Democrats screaming that anyone who doesn’t vote blue this year is embracing fascism, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that gun control activists are shrieking that their ideological opponents approve of mass murder. I’ll be utterly shocked, however, if that strategy proves to be successful with voters next Tuesday.