The Libertarian Strategy for Gun Owners

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The Libertarian Strategy for Gun Owners

by John Berntson, November 15, 2002

[John Berntson serves as chair of the Libertarian Party of Colorado.]

"I haven't heard anyone with a really good argument against the wasted vote position, but I'm listening..."

The gun rights supporters, gun owners, the gun lobby, or whatever you want to call them - I shall call them gunnies - do not seem to realize that they are losing the war. They have been pursuing a Republican strategy for decades and have lost major ground in both gun rights and civil rights in general. I have made these points before, but will try again from a different angle.

The gunnies have two major problems that they never address and they cannot win for their cause until they do.

1) They will never vote Democrat. You know it, I know it, the Democrats know it, and, most importantly, the Republicans know it. Quoth the governor, "What are they going to do? Vote Democrat?" That is the key to their political problem, right there. It means that they have absolutely no leverage over their own chosen party. They are base supporters and both major parties feel quite safe in ignoring their base in order to court the moderate swing voter. The GOP occasionally throws the gunnies a bone, but overall, the gunnies continue to lose ground.

2) Fewer Americans believe in gun rights. Even large portions of those who own guns are in favor of "reasonable" gun restrictions; many would be happier if other certain segments of the population could not get guns. Years of Hollywood propaganda and media saturation have turned the majority of Americans against guns. The gunnies do nothing to counter this. They talk about their Second Amendment rights, but people don't really care about other people's rights anymore. The only way for gunnies to win, in the end, is to win the hearts and minds of the American people.

Of course, there must be some in the gunny community who realize this and they must be trying to find ways to convince the American public, but I have yet to see a pro-gun commercial during the many hours of television I watch and there are few pieces of popular entertainment that could be listed as pro-gun. I think these progressive gunnies would like to find a way to persuade people, but they just don't have the resources or marketing know-how to get it done.

Yet, there is a way it could be done. Let me present...

The Libertarian Strategy

Gunnies vote for Libertarian candidates in large numbers. Libertarians get around ten percent of the vote in three-way races. Republicans lose, Democrats win. What happens next? Republicans show up at gunny meetings across the country, to see what happened. Let us follow one possible way that conversation might transpire:

"What happened there, big guy? I thought you people were going to vote Republican. Now the Democrats are in charge. You're going to lose your gun rights, for sure."

"Well, that may happen, sir, no doubt. But the way we saw it, we were losing our gun rights anyhow, even when you were in charge. We decided to do something about it."

"Fat lot of good it did you. There isn't a Libertarian elected, is there? Just Democrats. What did you accomplish?"

"Just one thing."

"What's that?"

"You're here, hat in hand. You can do something for us now."

"Like what?"

"You and your fellow Republicans can get us our gun rights back."

"What? Haven't you been paying attention? We aren't in charge anymore. We can't get you what you want unless you vote for us. We have to win."

"Well, you won for years and never did anything for us. We thought we would try it this way for a while."

"Okay, okay. You want us to give you assurances on what we will do if elected and then you will vote for us. I guess that's fair. Let me talk to my people."

"Nope, that's not it. We will not vote for you until you get us our gun rights back. No more promises. This time, you have to deliver BEFORE we vote for you."

"But... Haven't you been listening? Until we are elected - until we get a majority again - we cannot give you anything."

"Not true, Mr. Politician, sir. You can get us most of the way there without one vote from us."

"I don't see how."

"Tell me, sir, why is it that you have ignored and betrayed gun owners all these years?"

"Wait! We haven't betrayed..."

"Okay, maybe you don't see it that way. We do. But why haven't you Republicans ever made sweeping legislation to repeal all - or at least most - gun laws in this state and in this country? You've had the power, but you've never done it. Why?"

"Well, there are political realities. You just can't change things overnight, you know. People want stability. They want to be prepared for change."

"Okay, what 'preparing' have you been doing?"

"What? Well,..."

"You haven't been doing any. I've seen you at community forums. You sometimes tell people that you favor gun rights, depending on your audience. You never really tell them why, do you? You don't do anything to change minds."

"Perhaps, but the audiences at those forums are mostly partisans anyhow. Wouldn't be worth my time to try to sway them, nevermind the reporters at those events."

"Maybe not. But I don't think you would try anyhow."

"Why not?"

"Because you want to win."

"What? Now I really don't get you. Are you saying you think the Second Amendment is a sure vote loser?"

"You're the politician, so you tell me. Do the swing voters support gun rights?"

"No, not most of them."

"But you need the swing voters to win, don't you?"

"Yes."

"But you also need us gunnies to win, don't you?"

"I think you just proved that, yes."

"Interesting pickle you're in, ain't it?"

"Hmm. Yes, it is. I suppose you have a way out if it for me?"

"Indeed we do. Win over the swing voters."

"But I just told you, most of them are not pro-gun."

"That's because you do nothing to make them that way. You tell them what they want to hear. You take polls and hold focus sessions, trying to find out what the swing voters believe and want, then you package it up, send it out, and call it your program. That's why you and the Democrats sound so much alike; you are trying to win over the same twenty percent of the electorate with the same programs."

"That's a pretty cynical thing to say."

"Cynical, yet true. So, here's the deal. You can continue to ignore gun rights, in which case we will continue to vote Libertarian - or ACP or Reform. Some of our guys are even talking about voting for the Natural Law Party, just for fun. Or, you can start selling gun rights to the swing voters."

"Selling?"

"Convincing. Persuading. Change their minds. It can be done, you know. There are people who make a living changing people's minds. And you know what? Lots of them work for you. We want you to use the tremendous marketing arm of the Republican Party to convince people that they want guns in their lives. Sell them on the benefits of owning guns. Make people want them."

"So, you want some ads?"

"No, we don't want ads. We want a campaign. We want a huge campaign. We want you to make it the linchpin of your strategy. We want guns and Republicanism to go together in the public's mind like bacon and eggs. We want you to stake your entire future on it. No, we won't be satisfied with a few pro-gun ads in hunting magazines or during Rush Limbaugh, where they wouldn't be noticed by anyone who didn't already agree. You have to sell it. Hard!"

"And then?"

"Then - and ONLY then - when we see that you have carried on this tremendous campaign and persuaded people, when our own polling shows a marked increase in those supporting guns, and when our membership numbers have increased by a good percentage, only then will we tell our membership to go back to voting Republican."

"Really? Whew! That's a tall order."

"You think? But what other choice do we have? The way things are going, we will lose any chance of winning this battle in a decade or two. Our only chance is to win over people to our side and the only ones who can do that for us is you."

"Sounds like blackmail."

"We like to think of it as democracy in action."

So, there you have it. The Republican strategy is failing. Has failed. The gunnies think they can solve the problem by winning a few more seats in the legislatures. This totally ignores the realities of modern politics, where the twenty percent of voters in the middle control the agenda. Republicans can either serve the middle where it is at - which is what they are doing now - or they can bring the middle to them, through strong marketing.

Of course, the Republican Party is not going to do that if it doesn't have to. The purpose of the Libertarian Strategy is to make it have to, to leave them no other choice.

Pretty soon - ten to twenty years is my guess - the numbers in the gun community will have shrunk down low enough that they will no longer pose a palpable threat to the GOP. When that happens, the GOP will drop them like bad rubbish, along with any gun planks in their platform. Where will the gunnies be then?

Think about it.

So, to bring this to the wasted vote syndrome, which is what started this, do not fall into the trap of believing that electoral victory must be the only goal. Twenty percent of the electorate controls politics today, by switching their votes from party to party, while the party loyalists are ignored. Another ten to twenty percent, filled with purpose and resolve, can take back control of the situation, by denying victory to their facile champions and letting Atlas shrug for a bit.

This is not a strategy that we can trick anybody into. The gunnies and the Republicans are going to have to understand exactly what needs to happen and when, in order for it to work. We need to talk to the members of... all the... gunny groups - and persuade them that this is doable, that it can win, and that they are headed for total defeat if they keep following their present strategy.

This should be our goal.

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