The "radical incrementalism" of the gun control lobby

The "radical incrementalism" of the gun control lobby

Giffords executive director Peter Ambler is stepping down after ten years at the helm of the anti-gun group, and an exit interview he gave to Politico provides some interesting nuggets about how the gun control lobby operates, including its strategy of “radical incrementalism.”


On today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co we’re taking a closer look at what Ambler had to say before his tenure ends. I’ll say up front that the conversation with Politico was an amiable one, with reporters lobbing softball questions his way without ever pressing him on, say, his soon-to-be former boss’s declaration that the goal of the organization he’s headed up for the past decade is “no more guns.” Still, even through Ambler’s interview was decidedly friendly, there’s still a few useful tidbits to glean from the conversation… alongside some pronouncements that had me rolling my eyes.

Not only have the politics around guns changed, but so has the make-up of the movement. There are a ton of organizations now instead of just the big players.

I’ve heard a lot along the way, “Well there’s just one NRA, shouldn’t there be just one anti-NRA?” Oftentimes what matters as much as message is messenger. And being able to have different leaders and different institutions that are coming at this problem from different perspectives is very helpful.

I’m amused that Ambler can’t even acknowledge that the pro-2A movement is comprised of much more than the NRA. Yes, the anti-gun movement has major players like Everytown and all of the organizations that fall under its umbrella like Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action, as well as Brady, Giffords, and smaller groups like Guns Down and Change the Ref. The same is true when it comes to their ideological opponents. We have the NRA, but we also have the Second Amendment Foundation, Firearms Policy Coalition, Gun Owners of America, National Association for Gun Rights, a plethora of state-level groups, and newer orgs like the National African American Gun Association, the Asian Pacific American Gun Owners Association.


I agree with Ambler in one respect: it is helpful to have different groups and their members bring their perspectives to the fight for our Second Amendment rights. Some groups may focus more on political lobbying, others on litigation, and others on growing cultural acceptance of our right to keep and bear arms in places where its been placed off-limits and deemed taboo for decades. I’d just say that its the gun control lobby that’s taken a page from the 2A community, not the other way around.

There was also this interesting exchange about Joe Biden’s anti-gun efforts.

What approach have you found works best for moving Biden?

The day that Manchin-Toomey [the gun proposal to expand background checks] was filibustered, Gabby was sitting with then-Vice President Biden. And she was devastated. The vice president said something like, “Gabby, this is a dark day for the Congress and for the country. But what you’ll see here is this will catalyze people.” And that’s exactly what happened.

To an extent, we elevate the issue and partner with his administration and his advisers and provide the infrastructure that’s necessary from the outside. He’s somebody that you need to support his policymaking and his work as president more than you need to hold his feet to the fire.

But even with Biden, progress has been incremental.

It’s been incremental by necessity. He hasn’t done, like, literally everything, right? But I know he’s considered literally everything and done the vast majority of it. Like any president, there’s a limit to their executive authority.

I describe our approach as sort of radical incrementalism.


Ambler’s response to Politico’s first question jibes with what we’ve seen from Biden to date. He’s a true-blue believer in gun control, so groups like Giffords haven’t exactly had to twist his arm to get him to go along with the “vast majority” of what they’ve demanded, including naming a committed gun control activist to head up the ATF.

Thankfully that particular bit of “radical incrementalism” on the part of the anti-gunners backfired and Giffords senior advisor David Chipman’s nomination was yanked back after a handful of Biden’s allies in the Senate, including Joe Manchin and Angus King, told the administration that Chipman was unacceptable, but its still a good example of what Ambler’s talking about. The major gun control groups haven’t come out and endorsed Gavin Newsom’s call for a constitutional convention on gun control, nor did they publicly back Here 4 The Kids when it tried to hold a sit-in at the Colorado capitol to demand Gov. Jared Polis institute an executive order suspending the right to keep and bear arms. Heck, they all studiously avoided praising (or criticizing) New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham when she unilaterally declared the right to carry was suspended for 30 days in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County.

Organizations like Giffords or activists like Ambler aren’t opposed to these measures in theory. If they thought they could get away with them without suffering political blowback or long-term harm to their agenda. Incrementalism is their favored strategy because it allows them to deny their goal is the obliteration of our Second Amendment rights, but every now and then the mask slips and one of them admits to the truly radical end game they have in mind: “no more guns“, at least in the hands of lawful citizens.


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