By Robert M. Hausman
Anti-Gun Strategies Revealed
The following is an interview with Mark Pertschuk, legislative director at the anti-gun Coalition to Stop Gun Violence in Washington, D.C., conducted by another anti-gun group, Join Together. It is presented for its instructive value in how ‘the other side’ thinks.
Prior to Pertschuk’s becoming involved in anti-gun work in 1995, he was legislative director and then executive director of Americans for Non-Smokers’ Rights, a national anti-tobacco organization. Pertschuk’s strategy for his anti-gun activities is drawn from his successes in the anti-tobacco public affairs area.
“From the point of view of building a movement, they’re fairly similar issues,” Perschuk began. “They way in which the gun issue is most similar to tobacco is that you’ve got a powerful, successful opponent. But that’s also one of the fundamental differences. The tobacco industry is powerful because of money. Some tobacco companies are among the wealthiest corporations in the world. But they miss what they desire most: grassroots support.
“The gun industry, on the other hand, lacks the huge financial resources of the tobacco industry but makes up for it with strong grassroots support that the National Rifle Association has proven itself to be so effective in developing. “Which means,” Perschuk says, that “we’ve got a different kind of opponent, and that means we’ve got to use different strategies from those that worked against the tobacco industry.”
Though there are differences between the two industries, Pertschuk suggests some of the lessons learned in the tobacco wars are relevant to guns. One is the role that social acceptability and social pressure have in changing individual behavior.
“You can tell someone, ‘Smoking is going to give you lung cancer. And if you die from lung cancer, toward the end it’s like having your hand slammed in the door of a car over and over again.’ And believe it or not, it might not register with them,” Pertschuk says. “If, on the other hand, you make it dorky to smoke cigarettes or if you make the corporate ladder for success better for the non-smoker, it can be a much more powerful incentive.
“One of the powerful factors that strengthened the anti-tobacco forces’ efforts to change smokers’ personal behavior was the research showing the detrimental health effects second-hand smoke posed to others. So if a smoker decided that it was his own business if he wanted to risk cancer, the revelation that his habit endangered his children had a more powerful effect in many cases,” Pertschuk points out.
“One apparent parallel for guns would be the research showing that guns in the home heighten the chances that any member of the household will be killed or injured by gunshot.”
On this point, Dr. Mathew Miller of the Harvard School of Public Health told Join Together the cause for the large numbers of Americans owning firearms is “cognitive dissonance.”
“The fact that so many households with kids have guns in them and so many of them are stored improperly doesn’t suggest that (the owners) don’t care about their kids, but that they don’t think they’re at risk,” Miller said. “They think, ‘It doesn’t apply to me.’ They want to believe that they can do something to mitigate the violence around them and that the way to do that is to buy a gun. More and more research is showing there are groups of people who don’t have a voice in the acquisition of guns, but who suffer consequences for the guns that are around them.” Pertschuk says that when he started in the movement in 1985, “the feeling of many smokers and the tobacco companies was that they had a fundamental right-they always talked about a ‘penumbra’ of rights in the Bill of Rights. Of course, it was as far-fetched as the Second Amendment individual right to own an assault weapon, but it was exactly the same.”
The way in which anti-tobacco activists dealt with the smokers themselves also provides a lesson.
“We never attacked the smoker,” Pertschuk explains. “What we often would say was, ‘The asthmatic child, the addicted smoker, the senior citizen with heart disease are all victims of the predatory practices of the tobacco industry. In gun control, we need to do the same thing. Generally speaking, the gun owners shouldn’t be a target. It’s the industry–the dealers, distributors, manufacturers and the gun lobby– who should be the target.”
With tobacco, the “smokers’ rights” rhetoric withered away relatively quickly in the face of overwhelming evidence about tobacco’s dangers and what Pertschuk calls “organic cultural change” that deglamorized smoking. It was the emergence and development of this grassroots cultural force to reduce and restrict smoking and stand up to the tobacco companies that might be most instructive for the anti-gun side, Pertschuk says.
“There were all kinds of national organizations with money, like the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute who were working for years against smoking. Even the federal government wanted to do something. But tobacco control didn’t amount to a hill of beans until there was a grassroots movement.”
He believes organizations such as the Million Mom March have the potential to develop significant anti-gun grassroots support.
“Once we have, say, 35 states with powerful, native grassroots movements- and we could have that in five or ten years-then we could have the right building blocks for a successful movement,” Pertschuk predicts.
While he admits he is disheartened by the effectiveness of the National Rifle Association’s lobbying efforts, Pertschuk says the fight against the tobacco industry once seemed hopeless. “When I started in the non-smokers’ rights movement, everyone thought we were insane. When we said smoking should be banned in the workplace and restaurants, people thought we could never achieve that. When we said that we wanted to ban smoking on airplanes, we were a laughingstock.”
In conclusion, Pertschuk says the turning point will occur between 2005 and 2015. “My theory with this kind of social change is that you have a sort of pent-up demand and that once change begins to occur, once you have real gun control passing and once handgun ownership becomes socially unacceptable, then a lot of that pent-up demand will push for relatively rapid change,” Pertschuk said.
Heritage Fund On A Roll
Turning to news of a more positive tone, the industry’s approximately three-year-old pro-active public affairs and legal defense effort, the Hunting & Shooting Sports Heritage Fund, is rapidly gaining acceptance and gaining membership. Some seventeen companies have recently added their support, bringing the total to 142 concerns that are contributing a portion of their sales to protect the future of our industry.
New manufacturer members are: Gun Vault, Inc.; Hoppes, Inc.; International Cartridge Corp.; LaserMax, Inc.; Lyman Products, Inc.; Smith & Wesson; Stapel Knives, Inc.; and Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc. The new agency/supplier member is Miller Johnson. A new distributor member is AmChar Wholesale. New publisher members are The International Firearms Trade, an industry newsletter, as well as North American Hunter and Target Communications. Newly joined manufacturer’s representative firms are HMT Marketing, Inc. and Tim Bailey & Associates. New retailer members are H&H Gun Range and GunBroker.com.
“These firms realize we are building momentum as more of the politically-motivated lawsuits are dismissed and that the upcoming 2002 elections will be pivotal in determining the future firearms commerce legislative agenda,” said NSSF director of development, Chris Dolnack.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation Board of Governors has elected Art Wheaton, special assistant to the president, Remington Arms, as chairman, Bob Behn, president, Marlin Firearms, as vice chairman, Bob Scott, president, Smith & Wesson, as treasurer, and Tom Gura, president, Winchester Division of Olin Corp., as secretary.
Last spring, a groundbreaking ceremony was held in Washington, D.C. for the new ATF headquarters. Construction will begin in the spring of 2003 at the 5-acre site located on the corner of New York Avenue and Florida Ave., NE. A target date of the spring of 2005 is scheduled for its completion. The building will be about 422,000-square-feet. The new headquarters will connect a planned Metro station with the New York Ave. corridor, and encourage the development of retail units between the new station and headquarters.
Those taking part in the groundbreaking ceremony included: ATF director Bradley A. Buckles, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams, Cong. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), along with former ATF director and now under secretary for transportation security administration John M. Magaw.
At its most recent meeting, the Maryland Handgun Roster Board (which must review prospective handguns to be sold in Maryland) approved the following handgun models for sale in the state.
- Beretta Target 87 in .22 LR
- STI International models BLS-40 and LS-40 in .40 S&W, BLS-9 and LS-9 in 9mm, Edge in 9mm, 10mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP, and the Trojan in 9mm and .45 ACP.
- SIG Sauer Mauser M2 in 9mm, .40 S&W, .357 SIG and .45 ACP.
- Taurus Tracker M971 in .22 Magnum.
The Third District Court of Appeal of Florida has ruled that a South Miami ordinance requiring the use of trigger locks by consumers violates the state’s firearms pre-emption law. The ordinance was adopted in 2000 with support from the state Attorney General’s office, but was challenged in court by the National Rifle Association. Miami-Dade County and several other local jurisdictions passed similar measures following South Miami’s lead. The Attorney General’s office had concluded local trigger-lock laws could be enacted as they did not interfere with gun ownership rights.
The appeals court found the ordinance in direct conflict with the state pre-emption law also passed in 2000. The state law’s intent is to provide for uniformity of firearms laws throughout the state and reserves the power of firearms regulation to the state legislature. An existing state law requires gun owners to store their firearms in a manner preventing access by unsupervised juveniles.
Firearms manufacturers were found not liable for the actions of a white supremacist who killed one and injured five others in a shooting spree at a Los Angeles Jewish Center in 1999, a federal court has ruled.
In dismissing a negligent marketing suit against Davis Industries, Glock, Norinco, Bushmaster and Brazilian manufacturer, Imbel, by relatives of the victims, U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins said the plaintiffs failed to show a link between the manufacturers and the shooter’s actions. “There was no way to foresee this particular individual would obtain a firearm and use it to injure these plaintiffs,” she wrote.
California consumers purchased fewer handguns in 2001 than in any previous year since the state began keeping records on such sales in 1972, according to the state Attorney General’s office.
Handgun sales dropped 23.1%, to a total of 155,203 in 2001 from the 201,865 sold in 2000. The previous record low was recorded in 1998 when just 189,481 handguns were sold. Not surprisingly, the onerous restrictions on handgun purchases imposed by state law led many consumers to opt for long guns instead. As a result, long gun sales increased 7.3% in 2001, from 184,345 in 2000, to 198,999 in 2001.
Combined long gun and handgun figures indicate 354,202 total firearms were purchased by Californians in 2001, a number 8.2% below the 386,210 combined purchase total for 2000. Were it not for the horrorific events of Sept. 11, 2001, the year 2001 figures would have been even lower. For the first six weeks after Sept. 11th, California’s firearms sales averaged 9,200 per week, compared to about 7,000 per week during the same period the year before. Prior to Sept. 11th, firearms sales averaged about 6,500 per week during 2001. Some 3,607 attempted firearm purchases were denied by the California Dept. of Justice after buyer background checks.
A 5-cent tax on every bullet sold in the state of California is planned to be proposed as a November ballot issue by long-time gun control advocate Don Perata, a Democratic state senator.
“Bullets cause injuries that are expensive to treat and generally speaking, the public is footing the bill,” Perata explained. He added the idea was intended to raise funds for California trauma centers, and predicted the Democratic-controlled state legislature would opt to put the issue before the voters.
The state is facing a $17 billion budget deficit this year. A gubernatorial contest will also be held this fall, which pits incumbent anti-gun Democrat Gray Davis against pro-gun Republican, Bill Simon, and the ‘bullet-tax’ measure could become an issue in the race for governor.
The author publishes two of the small arms industry’s most widely read trade newsletters. The International Firearms Trade covers the world firearms scene, and The New Firearms Business covers the domestic market. Visit www.FirearmsGroup.com. He may be reached at: FirearmsB@aol.com.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V6N1 (October 2002)|