The second discussion in Progressivism on Tap’s summer series featured Alec MacGillis, a writer for The New Republic and author of the recent cover article, “This Is How the NRA Ends.” MacGillis began the evening by describing the premise of his article: Although it seems insurmountable at times, those in favor of gun-control reforms are more evenly matched to the might of the NRA and gun lobby than is often portrayed.
When asked if the gun-control movement can keep the necessary intensity needed to achieve reform in the face of “Obama is coming for your guns!” rhetoric, MacGillis said there has been a certain amount of defeatism on the part of liberals since the shooting in Newtown, which paints a picture of the NRA as a monolithic force. NRA voters are intense, but the constituency who votes based on their Second Amendment values only is shrinking; more and more congressmen do not have to worry about the NRA’s pull and pool of voters. Moreover, he argued, the NRA has influenced fewer elections recently, and he questioned the fatalistic common logic that guns are “untouchable.” Later, he noted that when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) went home and held town hall meetings after the Senate’s vote on gun control, he did not face too much criticism from his constituents. At one meeting, a few NRA people began to yell at him and, when they refused to listen to his explanations, the rest of the crowd supported Manchin and not the disrupters. To MacGillis, he exempllified representative government by explaining to his constituents why he took a necessary action, and the crowd appreciated his forthrightness.
MacGillis said that even moderate reform is important. Background checks may be the least controversial way forward and, although they may not have affected the Newtown shooting, they could have a large effect on other areas, such as urban gun violence. This, he felt, shows the farsighted attitude of Newtown parents and other gun-control advocates; they were willing to work on moderate reform that may not have helped their situation. Furthermore, the moderateness of background check reform has helped make those who oppose them look even more alarmist and nonsensical.
The moderators challenged MacGillis on this point, asking whether it is prudent to go after such a moderate reform in an immoderate way (with Democrats attacking members of their own party for reluctant support, etc.). MacGillis responded that doing so helped change the calculus of the situation in the Senate; people may change their votes if their own side is angry with them for not taking action on an issue with as much public support as background checks.
MacGillis supported the focus on federal action—as opposed to state-by-state action—because guns cross state lines easily. Moreover, in response to those on the left who fear that gun-control efforts will “suck up political energy” to the detriment of other issues, MacGillis suggested that perhaps there isn’t limited bandwidth on these issues. Everyone works on multiple issues at once; if anything, he felt that the left should see gun control as one of its priorities.