From my cold, dead, liberal hands

By Yaroslav Mikhaylov

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It is time for the American liberal movement to embrace guns. Gun ownership is a heavily politicized issue in the United States, often being defined along party lines: if one supports rights to gun ownership, he or she is also likely to vote Republican; people who support gun regulations or even an outright firearms ban are more likely to vote Democratic. It is also a very touchy issue; it was not too long ago that then-Senator Barack Obama faced a firestorm of outrage after mentioning how rural Pennsylvanians “cling to guns or religion.” Nor is it easy to forget actor-turned-gun activist Charlton Heston challenging the presidential candidate Al Gore in 2000 to take his rifle from his “cold, dead hands” or Sharon Angle threatening “Second Amendment remedies” against her political foes. However, upon closer examination, it is easy to see that gun ownership and liberal political ideology is not at all incompatible. In fact, gun ownership often goes hand-in-hand with many liberal political causes.

One such cause is environmentalism. Many gun owners want to maintain the right to own guns in order to engage in hunting. However, unless one is an avid squirrel-hunting aficionado, it is difficult to hunt in urban or suburban areas. Not only that, it is also dangerous. In order to hunt, hunters require relatively wild lands on which game can live freely and multiply. Basically, hunting and wildlife conservation – a big liberal political issue – go hand in hand. It also goes well with spreading awareness regarding human-rooted climate change.

If the liberal and environmental movements embrace hunters, they will gain access to a demographic that cares a lot about maintaining the environment. If hunters do not have to deal with the short-term political fear of losing their rifles, they may instead turn to their long-term political interest: conservation. However, what is the point of fighting to protect hunting grounds if it means losing the guns used to hunt? If liberals reach out to hunters rather than pushing them away, they may find a powerful voting bloc supporting their environmental agenda.

Another cause that gun owners and liberals can agree on is the right to privacy. While from the general liberal point of view privacy is primarily concerned with such things as government surveillance, wiretapping and corporate sale of personal data, it also includes many other intrusions by powerful groups into the personal lives of ordinary Americans. To many gun owners, restrictive gun laws are just that. In fact, one way of looking at the issue is that it is hypocritical to say it is illegal for the government to know where you went for lunch while simultaneously claiming that it is okay for the same government to know where you put your gun away at night. By dispensing with the idea that privacy laws only protect things that are politically expedient, the American liberal movement can earn itself a lot of support from the gun ownership community in fighting against other cases of government over-reach, such as warrantless spying or intrusive searches at airports.

The best way to earn the support of gun owners, however, is to do away with the fable that guns cause crime.

A year ago, the United States Supreme Court struck down the 30-year-old ban on firearm ownership in the city of Chicago. But what about the resulting deluge of shooting sprees? Well, Chicago had 435 homicides in 2010; 23 less than 2009’s 458 and less than half of 1992’s 943, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports. On the other hand, increase in firearm restrictions has, in some cases, been accompanied by an increase in firearm crime.

In Britain, for instance, the amount of injuries caused using non-air-powered weapons actually increased since the introduction of a near universal firearm ban there in 1997. Finally, in Switzerland – a nation that issues a firearm to every male citizen due to compulsory military service – has over two million privately-owned firearms in a nation of less than eight million people. Even with all those guns floating around, statistics on firearm-related deaths are negligible.

Considering the comprehensive positions on crime that many liberal and Democratic politicians hold, it is disconcerting to see their supporters continue to promote the myth that gun ownership causes violent crime.

Guns are not the enemy of liberalism, and neither are gun owners. Nor is a belief in the right to bear arms, enshrined in the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, diametrically opposed to a liberal ideology. Gun owners are reasonable people who would love to support many progressive and liberal causes, but are afraid that doing so will give support to those that want to take their guns away from them. So this is a challenge for the Democratic Party: make friends with gun owners, not enemies out of them. They may surprise you on Election Day.

Yaroslav Mikhaylov is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].