What Now For Gun Control?

Congress appears to be on the cusp of passing a gun-control measure, breaking a 30-year standoff. The bill takes baby steps toward the sort of gun measures that would meaningfully reduce the carnage, but the fact that Congress is passing anything  must be applauded as progress.

Of course, whether those baby steps will survive the horrendous, twisted logic of the Supreme Court’s recent evisceration of government’s ability to control armed mayhem remains to be seen.

Given that astonishing and dishonest opinion, what can be done?  

As a recent article from Talking Points Memo reminds us, it’s always, ultimately about the culture– and cultures are shaped by prevailing narratives.

An object, cloaked in an aura of glamor and cool, is, or at least feels, ubiquitous in American society. The object is a clear threat to public health — though that fact often gets eclipsed by arguments emphasizing the rights of those who like to use the object. Powerful, monied and well-connected special interest groups stand behind the object, and work fervently to thwart regulation and restrictions on it. 

Today, that object is a gun. In our recent past, it was a cigarette. 

Most readers of this blog remember when cigarette smoke was everywhere. We encountered it on airplanes, in bars and restaurants, and in our offices. The federal government was loathe to act; the FDA didn’t even get authority to regulate tobacco until 2009.

So–if government didn’t drive the change, what explains the anti-cigarette movement’s incredible success? In 2020, the most recent year for which the Centers for Disease Control provides data, 12.5 percent of Americans over the age of 18 smoked. In 1965, it was 42.4 percent.

That’s a pretty impressive victory. The question is, can we use the tactics that were so successful against Big Tobacco to get meaningful gun control, especially since the Court has evidently all but neutered government? 

Gun owners are in the minority. Smokers were also a minority — but, as the article notes, they were a powerful minority.

“In the 20th century, the smokingest segments of Americans were white men; now, the most gun owningest segments of Americans are white men,” Sarah Milov, associate history professor at the University of Virginia and author of “The Cigarette: A Political History,” told TPM. “The consequence of that for non-gun owning Americans is that they live in a world where public space is governed by the political demands and practices of what is truly a minority.”

The gun and cigarette lobbies spent millions obscuring that fact, presenting guns and cigarettes as foundational and ubiquitous parts of American life. Resistance to them, then, is futile — even unpatriotic.

The anti-smoking campaign changed attitudes about smoking in public places. They countered arguments about smokers’ rights by focusing on the harm to those unable to avoid second-hand smoke. When Big Tobacco fought no smoking rules for bars and restaurants, arguing that customers who didn’t like smoky venues could go elsewhere, activists pointed out that workers in those establishments had no such choice.

Experts think there are lessons to outsource to the fight for gun regulation: the anti-tobacco movement was coalitional, with outposts in every state; activists quickly realized the power of changing the narrative and stigma around public smoking, and of centering the rights of nonsmokers being harmed by cigarette smoke; instead of despairing at Congress’ coziness with big tobacco, they took the fight to local government. 

Even before the Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen,  ALEC had made it impossible to enlist most local governments in the movement to control weapons; a majority of states have so-called “pre-emption” statutes drafted by ALEC, preventing local governments from regulating firearms and ammunition.

The gun industry also benefits from a seriously devoted fan base. Many — though far from all — gun owners see their firearms as more than a recreational tool or even a means of self defense. The cult of the gun has grown so powerful that some owners consider it a part of their identity: shorthand for individualism and freedom, for triggering the libs and intimidating a federal government that supposedly wants to change their way of life. 

Even the tobacco industry’s biggest customers largely lacked that fervor.

Despite these considerable disadvantages, gun control advocates can begin to change the narrative from the NRA’s emphasis on gun owners’ rights. We can form coalitions emphasizing the rights of the rest of us–a clear majority– not to be shot and not to live in constant fear for ourselves and our children.

It took a long time to change the culture around smoking, but when the narrative changed, so did the culture– and when the culture changes, so (eventually) do the laws–and even Supreme Court opinions. 

Speaking of changes, tomorrow I’ll consider the radicalization of the Court…


  1. This Bill is the Republican Wish list…it’s totally what Republicans wanted.
    I am upset that the Orgs and Dems who promote Gun Safety and age limit on assault rifles are praising this Bill.
    It’s a “start” they say. No, it an “end”!

  2. If I remember correctly, the studies (by universities and our government) began showing that second-hand smoke did contribute to cancer. Therefore, your rights were causing harm to others who didn’t smoke.

    In other words, there was liability or responsibility.

    I’ve said it a million times, you’ve got to add responsibility and liability to gun ownership. Plaintiffs need to be able to win court cases around wrongful death. Make the gun owner take out insurance just like for a car or motorcycle. If a dealer sells a gun to someone with a mental illness, guess what? He can get sued.

    They’ll start thinking twice about it when it starts hurting people in the pocket.

  3. I totally agree with Todd, I’m just as shocked as the rest of you. Make them pay financially and this will go away. My hubby has also said tax the heck out of ammunition’s and giuns and it will get their attention. A harder task, but it will get the point across.

  4. I, along with Attorney Mark Small, worked on the litigation involving smoking bans in Indy bars. I just saw this sentence and had to respond:

    “They countered arguments about smokers’ rights by focusing on the harm to those unable to avoid second-hand smoke.”

    I know extremely well the science relating to second-hand smoke. Epidemiologists use something called a “risk factor” to determine whether something in an environment causes disease. A risk factor of less than 1 indicates a negative correlation. A risk factor of higher than 1 indicates a positive correlation. But for epidemiologists to consider there to be causation rather than merely a correlation, there has to be a risk factor of 1.95.

    The relationship between smoking and cancer is a risk factor of about 10. But in reviewing the multitude of secondhand smoking studies and cancer, epidemiologists put the risk factor at only 1.3, far below causation. (The number is about the same for second-hand smoke causing heart disease.) And to even get it to 1.3, epidemiologists excluded from consideration studies that would have driven the risk factor even lower than 1.3. There was one very credible secondhand smoke study which surprisingly showed a negative correlation between being exposed to smoking and cancer. That study wasn’t used in coming up with the 1.3 risk factor assigned to secondhand smoking.

    As a non-smoker who doesn’t like being around smoking, I get the annoyance with smoking in public places. But when people claim the bans are needed because of the health consequences of secondhand smoking, I have to push back – the science has never been there on the subject. While even the surgeon general has issued an opinion of the health dangers of secondhand smoke, that declaration seems driven more about the politics of the debate, not the actual science.

    I would add that Smoke Free Indy is now targeting the health dangers of “third hand smoking.”
    (Not sure why they call is called that.) They want to stop people from smoking in their private residences because the smoke leaks out under the doors and through the walls and goes into the environment where it causes bystanders to get cancer and other diseases. Of course this claim is completely made up. There is no actual science showing that. It’s just a pretense for expanding the ban on smoking.

  5. The “Pro Life” political party is assuring this nation they will always have access to hand guns and assault level weapons and ammunition to continue mass shootings to uphold the 2nd Amendment. Anyone who has been watching the January 6th hearings, especially yesterday with the delays due to researching new information, knows that as long as Republicans are standing in the way of protecting Americans from domestic terrorism we will not see common sense gun laws. They have handed control to local and state level lawmakers and in doing so have erased the preamble to the Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” We have no unity, justice, domestic tranquility, common defense, general welfare or blessings of liberty.

    Paul K. Ogden; I was a smoker for 45 years, when the movement began to ban smoking I understood it because I had always known it was an unhealthy habit. I agreed with the dangers of 2nd hand smoke but still have no idea what 3rd hand smoke was or is. Do you have the answer to that? Just askin’

  6. Paul, I have to ask – was there a proven relationship between smoking and *other* health risks besides cancer? (heart disease, stroke, asthma, etc.?)

    I have real concern that now in Indiana one doesn’t need a permit to carry. I really believe the only thing that will reverse this trend will be, as when the Black Panthers decided to open carry in CA & scared the bejeezus out of Reagan, when ‘the wrong sort’ begin to buy and carry en masse… POC, women, gays, Democrats. Anyone want to display how cool they are around the Statehouse?

  7. Today’s responses to headlines regarding gun safety and control are intriguing. For once I agree with Todd to establish consequences of liability for manufacturing, direct sale, and ownership of weapons requiring financial responsibility (insurance). I am especially intrigued with Paul’s informed opinion to establish cause/effect risk factors related to availability and prevalence of lethal weapons in a community. Something to think about.

  8. Yes, indeed! Todd hit the nail on the head today. Making people pay for their misuse of their supposed right will be the thing that finally turns the tide. Just as important is make the manufacturers pay for their marketing, as the Sandy Hook parents did. I’m guessing that getting their “man card” reissued was top of mind for the incels who shot nineteen unarmed fourth graders and two unarmed teachers and slaughtered black Americans doing their grocery shopping.

    As I read what I just wrote, the thought struck me that we might also begin publicly deriding those who take up arms against innocents. What kind of “real man” does that?

  9. Cultural change: We need cartoonists to draw guns that look limp, like a manhood tool that fails!
    Like the statue of “The emperor has no balls,” of 2016.
    There is no way that Todd’s otherwise good suggestion about taxiing anything about guns will pass any
    but the most liberal state legislature, certainly not congress…sadly.
    I’m still waiting for the predicted demise of the NRA by way of law suit.
    You may be tired of my Orange Ogre rantings, but here we have another indication of the spreading rot, cancer, on
    society that his involvement in politics set off; he and McConnell.

  10. Where is the conservative outcry against legislating from the bench and the activist justices?

  11. Paul,

    The second hand smoke is actually breathing in smoke from someone else even though you do not smoke.

    Third hand smoke is residual, like if a person is a heavy smoker, the inside of their car is coated with nicotine and tar, and the odor is quite prevalent from this residual contaminant.

    So even though the person who owns a car might not be smoking out of respect to their passenger, the gasification of the residual contamination is considered just as dangerous, and also what can be absorbed through the skin by contact.

  12. Democrats have realized that with Manchin and Sinoma in control, they don’t really have a majority in making laws. They do have the majority leadership positions which is something, but it’s not effective in making law, just in preventing law and that’s what Republicans want, no more laws.

    Blaming the Democrat Party for the actions of voters and entertainment media is nonsensical.

  13. Well with the overturn of Roe and the Supreme Court’s decision on conceal and carry–my husband and I have toiled w/ the idea of getting armed. We have a daughter we adopted from China and since it appears it is open season on women and minorities we may need to add ourselves to those who are going to get a gun. Need to protect ourselves from the Religious Right.

    My generation has failed

  14. I suppose, third hand smoke is just like collateral damage! Someone going after an individual using a loaded gun, shoots his Target maybe, but all of the other bullets are sailing through the air, and sometimes finding unintended targets. Kids doing their homework in their living rooms, a woman walking her dog blocks away, a man sitting on his porch drinking a beer, not involved in any of the confrontation a mile (8 blocks) or so away. Their health, loved ones, or lives are taken or changed forever by something the one pulling the trigger has done but never even thought about.

    Concerning the second amendment, “a well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

    So what is a well-regulated militia? I think the key phrase is “well regulated!”

    Article 1, section 8, clause 15 and 16, puts the power of regulating and supplying and arming militias squarely in the hands of congress. Clause 16 reads; “the Congress shall have power to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United states, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress!”

    The militia, which had existed before The Constitution, was brought under Federal control by the defense act of 1916, this discusses the authority of the federal government to bring national guard forces under its control. And, allows Congress to raise an additional militia if deemed necessary! This militia would be under the control of congress, trained, and armed by congress.

    So, I don’t see how there’s a gray area here at all, the only gray area is in the minds of those playing both ends against the middle!

    If the militia is regulated by Congressional or presidential authority, then it would stand to reason everyone who would be considered in the militia would be regulated.

  15. The only possible good news coming out of the overturn of Roe is that Democrats will defy the usual loss in the midterms suffered by those in power and come up with a substantial increase in numbers (though not filibuster-proof) in both the House and the Senate – and perhaps a quick codification of Roe and other rights Thomas has suggested he would remove in his concurring opinion. Other than that, it is an unmitigated disaster as the court would have us return to the theocracy of the Holy Roman Empire in a move from separation of church and state to one of church is state. That noise you hear from Virginia is Madison and Jefferson revolving in their graves.

  16. Gerald, the Democrats in the Senate don’t need 60 votes. If Manchin and Sinema weren’t hell bent on control, they could abolish the filibuster with a simple majority. You only need to change the rules, which doesn’t take 60 votes. If the Dems could pick up as few as 4 seats, they could start to pass the bills everyone says they want.

  17. Gerald,
    Don’t get your hopes up. People understand it will become a state by state issue and will continue to vote to support their position – the Pro life agenda is not going away!
    What people don’t like is: inflation, the value of their 401k, gas prices, illegal border crossings, Biden’s war on oil and gas and his total incompetence to fix anything but continues to make things worse while acting like it’s not his fault.
    It will be a democrat bloodbath in November.

  18. Yah Todd…..liability and responsibility. The freedom of guns and open carry, creates a tremendous amount of apprehension and fear within me. As with most people, I also have elements of trauma of violence as well as the fear of death…perhaps by unintended gun shots. Where can anyone go these days without encountering “open carry”? And just the other day at Goodwill, I saw it by a “dude who could hardly walk, little lone protect himself from someone who wanted to remove his easily noticed hand gun slung on his right hip.

    That is also a key to the Gender Biased ruling today but SCOTUS. It seems to take sperm from a male to induce pregnant in a female body…..legal liability and responsibility for ALL involved.

    Personality, in years past, I found men, desiring to have unprotected sex, to lie about their status of sterility. Today DNA can prove the case of whose it was.

    We are surely losing our freedoms and rights.

  19. Barbara G,

    Of course it’s the woman or females responsibility to prevent pregnancy, because as we all know, the male is the superior sex? At least that’s what we’re being told by the supreme court. And then, they tell the women, if you’re pregnant, too bad so sad!

    I suppose, it’s about choice? Do we take on the responsibility for ourselves? What if a woman can’t take birth control? Is she going to stop having sex? We all know, what the guy is going to do! Ladies night at the club, some alcohol maybe a little dancing? Pregnancies happen on a regular basis.

    They say that sex sells, and they’re correct! Every single aspect of our society seems to revolve around sex, so obviously, it’s the most important aspect of human society!

    People work, they strive, they educate themselves, they acquire material possessions, they get surgical implants, hair plugs, wigs, nails? Contact lenses? Body shapers, for men and women! The ultimate sabotage and camouflage. All designed to promote sex!!

    It’s the ultimate thrill, it’s the most favored hunt, it’s the unblindered focal point of almost every human on the planet. Me’ism? A Me’ist society? Gratification before compassion? Exception before contraception? Don’t worry, I’m sterile, if I’m lyin I’m dyin! Lol, everyone’s dying! Some quicker than others, but it’s an eventuality! So, I guess everyone’s lying. A stiff wanker has no conscience! And neither does its owner.

    By the way, I’ve been tested for monkeypox, and I’m cleeeeeeean as a whistle, well, depending on where that whistle has been anyway, lol!

  20. I have always thought that one of the best ways to begin changing the culture around guns is make the owners more responsible for what happens with their weapons. If a four year old gets a hold of your loaded weapon and shoots someone, you go to jail and lose the rights to own a gun. If a family member, who isn’t allowed to own weapons takes a gun and commits a crime with it you pay a hefty fine and lose the right to own guns.
    It takes away the argument of the responsible gun owner because even the NRA says, in its safety guidelines, that it is the responsibility of the gun owner to keep guns out of reach of unauthorized users when not in use. I think it is a step to reinforce the idea that guns are deadly in the minds of those who see them as sources of entertainment.

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