Dani Robbins

Lessons from the Nonprofit Sector on the Gun Debate

In Advocacy, Lessons Learned on February 25, 2018 at 1:29 pm

The domestic violence movement spent years educating the public that family violence was not a family affair and that we all had an obligation to keep people safe. We had to train the police and the prosecutors and advocate to change the laws and public opinion. We each had to speak up and speak out, individually and collectively. The domestic violence community insisted, and continues to insist, that victims be protected under the law.

Mothers against Drunk Driving spent years changing public opinion on drunk driving; teaching everyone that we all had an obligation to keep our roads safe. That we shouldn’t drive drunk or let our friends drive drunk.  They insisted that laws be improved to make our roads safer.

The rape crisis movement spent years changing public opinion, advocating for the media to not report victim’s names and to stop saying that the victim didn’t contribute to her/his assault, implying that all the other victims had.  They insisted that rapists to be brought to justice.  They changed the common assumptions about who has a right to put their hands on women’s bodies: the answer is those who the women allow to touch them. The #metoo movement brought it wider and challenged assumptions of power and who has the right to be heard, and when. Both groups continue to fight to make us safer.

Each is an illustration of how things change in this country and about what needs to happen for people to feel and be safe.

The NRA is a nonprofit.  In fact, it’s a nonprofit that routinely advocates against the wishes of its members, who do believe in limited gun control.  That is not a sustainable plan long term for any nonprofit.  I predict their leadership will transition within the next year, especially if public opinion continues to turn against them.

What does all this have to do about the current gun debate? The lesson is about roadblocks and also proximity.  We change public opinion one person at a time, one community at a time.

The Second Amendment is not the issue. You have a right to protect yourself; the vast majority of advocates are not denying that or trying to take that away. It is baked into our constitution and our consciousness. However, what is also baked into our constitution and our consciousness is pluralism, along with the understanding that you accessing your rights doesn’t get to impede me accessing mine.  With freedom comes obligation.

It’s not going to be a one size fits all approach. In the case of Parkland, Florida the police and the FBI collectively let us down, even as the community was screaming to be heard. In the Denver police shootings, a good guy with a gun, looked like a bad guy with a gun, which made it more difficult for the police to find the actual bad guy with a gun. In the case of the Vegas shooting, there was nothing on paper about the killer.  No trail to follow.  No clues to miss.  Nothing.

A good guy with a gun may not stop a bad guy. They haven’t yet, though there was an armed guard in Parkland and many presumably good guys with guns in Denver. Arming more people is not going to get us there. Making one kind of gun harder to get is not going to get us there.  Though I do agree that making semi-automatic weapons harder to get while we figure it out is a start.

It’s true that the cities with the most restrictive gun laws have the highest number of gun deaths.  It’s also true those are not the places where schools have been shot up. In those cities, kids get killed on their way to school, not at school. The wealthier suburbs are where kids have been getting killed in school.  We have an obligation to protect all of our kids, regardless of neighborhood!

Here’s the other thing we know: The states with the toughest guns laws do have lower proportionate gun deaths.  It’s a place to start.

We need it all: More laws. More enforcement of current laws. More response to reports of issues.  More roadblocks. More services for people in need.  More people intervening when a kid, or kids, need help.

The lesson from the nonprofit sector is about roadblocks. Look at domestic violence; it’s not enough to have laws.  It’s not enough to have shelters or jails; it’s not enough to train the community on what domestic violence looks like and how to intervene.  Sometimes though, it is enough to put up roadblocks in every sense so that it’s harder for a man who is trying to kill his wife to get to her.

That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to take anybody’s guns away, unless they shouldn’t have them. We’re trying to make it harder for the people who shouldn’t have guns to get them, so that the people who want to and should have guns, can.

It’s not any different than the new – and annoying but mostly only inconvenient –  laws on buying Sudafed, and having your name be put on a list just because you’re sick.  Or taking your shoes off at the airport.  Sure, it’s a hassle to wait 3 days to buy a gun.  Just like it’s a hassle to only get one pack of Sudafed after you show identification, and to stand barefoot on a disgusting floor on which thousands of people have walked and who knows when was last mopped, but it’s one way that we have agreed in this pluralistic society in which we live – and which we love-  that we can protect the whole from the few.

That’s the goal: protecting your right to defend yourself and all kids’ rights to be safe at school, and on their way to school.  We can do it, together.

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