The Rise of a Third Party Can Solve the US Gun Debate
How re-framing the conversation can lead to salvation
The issue of gun control in the United States is a main stream issue shaping today’s political landscape. It has been an issue that divides most Democrats and Republicans or the GOP, as they are commonly called — liberals vs conservatives. Most Democrats believe in tighter gun control laws, while Republicans advocate for gun ownership. The recent gun violence in Florida on 14 February 2018 gave rise to a movement across the US with many younger people advocating for stricter gun controls. This movement has caused political turbulence both in Washington DC and at a state level.
Recent Mass Shootings
The most recent incidence of a mass shooting occurred at Stoneman Douglas High School on 14 February 2018 which resulted in the death of 17 students. The gunman was an 18-year-old Florida resident. As horrific as this incident was, it is not the only one.
Previously, there was a shooting in Las Vegas at Mandalay Bay Hotel killing 58, one of the most deadly in modern US history. The shooter was 64 years old. Earlier in 2016, there was another major shooting at an Orlando night club killing 49 and wounding 58.
These are painful incidents that have yielded tragedy for many families who lost family members in these shootings. These incidents made national headlines leading to a public response from the US President. But where do the Democrats and the GOP stand on this issue precisely?
Main US Political Parties’ Views
The Democrats take a more liberal position on various issues and policy matters. When it pertains to gun control, the Democratic view holds to allow for Americans to exercise their Second Amendment rights to bear arms. However, the Democratic Platform for America in 2004 says that assault weapons should be banned. Most recently, Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island introduced an assault weapons ban mirroring the same ban that was introduced during Bill Clinton’s presidency in 1994. The ’94 ban was for a period of 10 years, so it expired in 2004 during the George W. Bush presidency.
As mentioned this view holds true for most Democrats except for someone like Conor Lamb, the recently elected Representative to the US House for the 18th District in Pennsylvania. He caucuses with the Democrats and shares most Democratic views, yet he is pro-gun and pro-life both which contradict the general Democratic views. Could Conor Lamb be a signal that Democrats are looking to moderate their views slightly as the mid-term elections come in November?
On the other side, the GOP also have varying views and hold a more conservative view. Most would agree the GOP view advocates for more gun ownership, more hunting land, and no gun licensing. In addition, the National Rifle Association (NRA), a powerful lobby group, tends to support most GOP candidates through funding candidates’ (re-)election campaigns and other initiatives. The NRA spent $11,438,118 on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential bid and another $19,756,346 against Hillary Clinton, thus totalling to $31 million spent during the US presidential election in 2016. In 2018, the NRA spent $1,173,002 on Luther Strange during the Alabama special election, and $271,261 against Robert E. Quist’s special election bid.
One could argue that these two opposing views are representative of the general population. After all, local constituencies voted representatives and senators into office. Now, what would happen if a third major part came on the horizon representing a more human approach to gun control?
Prominent Third Political Party
The US political setup remains a two-party system. Of course, there are other smaller parties like the Libertarian party or the Greens. Neither of these two parties hold any elected seat or ever held the Presidency or a congressional majority. The 2016 Presidential elections showed the Libertarian party did quite well by gaining 4,489,235 votes or about 3.27% of the electorate — In 2012, the Libertarian party gained 1,275,923 votes. The 3.2 million increase in votes may have contributed to Hillary Clinton’s electoral defeat.
The question is if a prominent party can take a foothold in American politics and reshape the gun control conversation either towards the NRA’s common-sense gun control approach, or to a more criteria, evidence-based gun control approach. If an organisation or political party took such an approach it can lead to a shake up in the political landscape that has governed the US over the last 250 years.
Such an organisation that has gained traction in recent months is the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). The DSA started in the 1980s and has remained relatively quiet on the political front. However, their membership has grown in the last year, and they have managed to gain a seat at a local council in Georgia. This is only a state level initiative yet reflects the opportunity to expand at higher state levels and eventually to the national government.
Two recent movements that have gained national attention are ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘March For Our Lives’. Such movements have come to prominence by shaking up the national dialogue. The latter has shown that young voices matter by making promises that public officials who do not advocate or introduce gun control legislation will not receive their vote. The obvious conclusion is that youngsters will start voting soon and have the power to determine whether someone has their job.
It would take the DSA or another similar organisation to reframe the current gun control debate and garner support of the American public. If such an event would happen, then this new found support defies the traditional Washington DC titans from hiding behind strong lobby groups like the NRA.
Generally, the NRA is pro-gun and advocates gun ownership for all American citizens according to the Second Amendment. To advance their pro-gun agenda, they have made campaign contributions to the Republican party’s candidates to increase the candidates’ chances of a successful campaign. In 2016, the NRA contributed $1.1 million and so far in 2018 they have contributed $350.7k. Recent events may have altered the traditional way the NRA funds candidates.
An example of this change is the recent ‘March for Our Lives’ demonstration in response to the Stoneman Douglas shooting. As a direct result of that shooting, the NRA has called for a ‘common sense’ approach to gun control. In this way, the use of a gun is more defensive and protective rather than aggressive such as the shooting of school students.
The NRA’s recent calling for the common sense approach remains aligned with its mission since its founding in 1871. The organisation positions itself as the “premier firearm education organization in the world.” Having said that, the organization has evolved over time to become an American political force that remains influential.
US President’s View
The current US President, Donald Trump, has changed his stance on gun control by first advocating gun control with more background checks and the ban of bump stock sales then easing that view. At the same time, President Trump has also called for teachers to bear arms in specific situations to protect students. The suggestion for teachers to bear arms may create a slippery slope for teachers and the education sector — are teachers security guards or teachers?
This issue may become another contentious one going forward especially at state level. Some school districts or jurisdictions may not have a police department. If that’s the case, is a teacher bearing arms the only plausible solution? It may be difficult to imagine going to a school where teachers have a visible weapon.
US Mid-Term Elections 2018
In parallel of this gun control debate falls the upcoming US mid-term elections where seats in the House of Representatives are up for grabs. Some may choose not to seek re-election as is the case with Paul Ryan. Others may face fierce re-election bids at a time of heightened political scrutiny across the United States. Deep inside that political scrutiny lies gun control.
Some Representatives’ constituencies call for tighter gun control in line with the students and others recent marches. As a response, some Representatives may choose to follow their constituencies desires and others not. For example, if the congressional district relies on NRA funding, then the campaign needs to advocate pro-gun and win re-election on that basis or risk to lose funding should the constituency have become more pro-gun control in recent times.
A change in majority in either the House or Senate will not solve the gun control problem. The current standing is that both the Democrats and GOP are fighting each other to retain their seat if up for re-election or win the seat if running for the first time. In either scenario, the gun control manifesto is not the will of the people.
According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, Americans favour stricter gun control. Furthermore, Americans say guns are the biggest problem in America right now. This continued activism of Stoneman Douglas survivors has brought the gun control issue on a national platform.
Misleading Gun Control Manifesto
After each successive gun shooting whether it be at a school, night club, hotel, university, or another public venue where people are injured or killed, the US President addressed the nation and expressed his grief. He may even go to visit the shooting location. During that Presidential address or acknowledgement of the incident, national protests take place and advocate for stiffer gun laws to encourage the Government to take some action. However, nothing has changed and here’s why: neither political party captivates the will of the people.
The debate is always a pro- vs. anti- gun control one. It doesn’t seem to find a medium, happy ground where Americans can bear arms according to their constitutional rights while at the same time protecting the American public from incidents like what we have seen.
Now let’s change the debate to this one: fit vs unfit to bear arms
The new debate provides a clear distinction based on agreed criteria. If we were to agree on certain criteria that are standard and transparent then it seems to partially solve the issue. Let’s think about what kind of criteria might be needed:
- Minimum age
- Background check — state and national level
- Convicted felon’s database
- Mandatory gun tests
This list of possible criteria is non-exhaustive. At the very least it can provide a framework to allow persons to determine whether or not a person is fit to bear arms. It’s a more concrete approach than the current pro-gun vs. anti-gun debate that remains a circulation of the same old political views for the last few decades.
Gun control remains a highly political issue that divides the American public. Many high-profile shootings have shed light on the desperate need to change the current situation. The two political parties in power have failed to gain any traction in a long-term solution.
The caveat in finding a long-term solution is restructuring the gun control conversation away from pro- vs. anti- to gun-fit vs. gun-unfit. This new debate lends credibility to tangible, evidence-based criteria that give a conclusive answer. If the conversation is structured in this way, then this can easily give rise to a third party.
The third party mounts itself on the platform of listening to the public and working with a modern, 21st century approach to harness and control a 21st century problem.