On March 26th, the editors of The Weekly Standard published “Conservatives Dismiss the Kids at Their Own Peril” about last weekend’s March for Our Lives rallies and bluntly pointed out that “conservatives are in a battle for these kids’ hearts and minds.” The editorial is pragmatic and a good reminder that although it is possible to forcibly out-legislate the political opposition in the short-term, it is a smarter long-term strategy to actually convert people. The next generation needs to understand why our Second Amendment is important and why the right to keep and bear arms is worth protecting.
Yes, there was certainly irresponsible, counterproductive, and false rhetoric at last weekend’s March for Our Lives rallies. And, according to the Washington Post, “only about 10% of the participants were under 18. The average age of the adults in the crowd was just under 49 years old.”
But responding to the rallies and those in attendance with only insults or refusing to join the conversation is not the optimal reaction. As the editorial says, “rather than complain about their arguments, engage them. And rather than dismiss their concerns, address them.”
Because the Left is. And while Second Amendment supporters might have won in the past and might successfully obstruct gun bans in the short term, writing off the youth and rally attendees is a risky long-term strategy.
This is not to pretend that every gun control advocate will change his or her mind. Certainly, there are some gun control advocates who do not even want to listen or are willing to do whatever it takes to ban guns, including engaging in personal attacks and intentionally perpetuating false information.
And it is admittedly extremely frustrating and irritating to be unfairly accused of being complicit with or responsible for all gun violence. Such accusations are flat-out shameful and dishonorable, and it is fair to defend ourselves and to correct falsehoods.
But conservatives must then forge ahead and continue to attempt outreach regardless. It is a mistake to simply give up on attempting to influence the minds of today, tomorrow, and future generations. We cannot just assume that it is impossible — or that the people will come to conservatism voluntarily and naturally.
It is important to understand that for many Americans, the only associations they have with guns come from tragic mass shootings. Their gun reality consists of 24-hour news and social media feeds filled with heartbroken and grieving families. It is not surprising that people would fear firearms, a tool that is designed to kill. We must recognize that and show that firearms are also a tool for protection and self-reliance. It would be advantageous to provide a better association and to show why responsible gun ownership is necessary.
Otherwise, how can we expect non-gun owners to understand or learn, if no one explains it to them? How can we be outraged when good-intentioned people are genuinely horrified by guns, when there is so much misinformation turning people away? Responsible gun owners bear the burden of teaching why the Second Amendment and gun ownership are important.
The editorial further emphasizes Republicans’ failure to engage these protesters:
Instead of mocking teenage marchers, why not use this moment as an opportunity to engage in critical self-reflection about what the Republican party — and the conservative message more broadly — has not managed to reach these future voters?
In what should be a huge red flag for conservatives, TWS editors note that in January, 62% of registered millennial voters preferred Democratic candidates for the upcoming midterm elections, which is the highest figure dating back to 2006, and only 12% of millennials adhere to mostly conservative ideals, which is the lowest of any generation. We are therefore setting ourselves up to fail in the future by ignoring and mocking these young Americans (and current and future voters).
— Pew Research Center (@pewresearch) March 20, 2018
Trump only won the 2016 presidential election with fewer than 80,000 votes in three states. It was not a landslide win, and Republicans will not have the fortune of running against Hillary Clinton in future elections; we have already lost multiple winnable races since the 2016 presidential election. We cannot simply count on currently existing Republican voters, and “outreach” cannot consist solely of mocking the Left.
This editorial is reminiscent of this piece by former TWS employee Shoshana Weissmann, who now works at R Street Institute. In her piece, titled “The Future of the GOP: Cities and Judicial Engagement,” she admonishes Republicans against giving up on cities (and states) as liberal enclaves. There are many examples demonstrating that it is possible for Republicans to win over presumed liberal strongholds: New York City Mayors Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani; San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer; New Jersey Governor Chris Christie; Massachusetts Governors Mitt Romney and Charlie Baker; Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.
Even at famously liberal UC Berkeley, where a speech by conservative commentator Ben Shapiro allegedly cost the university an estimated $600,000 in security, a 19-year-old conservative started her own political organization to offer Republicans and Democrats a chance to debate, not get shouted down.
The choice to refuse to compete just because the conversations are difficult, awkward, or uncomfortable is neither acceptable nor possible if the Republican Party wishes to continue to be a major national party. Conservatism believes in hope and opportunity for all, and it would be an historic mistake to assume it is not worth it to share with certain audiences.
We don’t need to pit the teenage survivors of a mass shooting against each other. We should instead strive to set an example of how to debate ideas — not to insult people. There are a few things we can and should do immediately to engage in the kind of outreach that is necessary.
We should continue to point out that crime is low, school shootings are rare, and students are safer than they have ever been. As many try to solve the problem of gun violence by banning the most popular rifle in America, we should inform them two-thirds of gun deaths are due to suicides and rifles contribute far less to gun deaths annually than handguns. We should point out that the “NRA, gun makers, and gun rights issues do not even show up on the OpenSecrets website lists for top lobbying firms, top lobbying sectors, top lobbying issues, or top lobbying industries for the years 1998-2017” and “[f]ewer than 20 percent of American gun owners are even NRA members.”
We should emphasize that gun control measures in the past have disproportionately affected people of color and the poor and that any new gun control measures would unfortunately almost certainly have similar results. We should support and defend the rights of minority gun owners. We should point out that there are regulations on guns and that guns rights advocates have compromised before. We should promote responsible gun ownership and gun safety and seek to educate more people as to why gun ownership and the Second Amendment are important historically in the history of our country.
When it comes to the Douglas High School shooting, we should encourage the students and activists to ask why Cruz was never arrested and how that affected his background check. We should closely examine the law enforcement failures that could have prevented the Douglas shooting but didn’t.
And when people accuse Republicans of being unwilling to help save lives, we should certainly point out that the omnibus bill passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by a Republican president included Fix NICS, which penalizes government agencies for not reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) in response to the failures of the Sutherland Springs shooting; clarified that the 1996 Dickey Amendment does not prohibit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from gun violence research; and included the STOP School Violence Act, which increases funding for schools to improve their own security and requires reporting systems. We should certainly point out that Republican Senator Marco Rubio (along with Democrat Senator Bill Nelson) of Florida have proposed legislation in support of “Gun Violence Restraining Orders.” We should certainly point out that Republican President Trump has announced he will ban “bump stocks” in response to the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting.
Yes, there will be people who refuse to listen. And yes, there will be those who insist upon spreading false facts who then refuse to correct themselves even after having the truth pointed out to them. There will certainly be some who will be unwilling to compromise.
But that is no excuse not to try.
These individuals constitute a (very vocal) minority, but we should not assume they represent all those who currently don’t agree. There are those who could be won over, if only we made an effort.
Alisyn Camerota at CNN is one such example. She made an error, she was corrected, and she subsequently corrected others making the same mistakes.
We should put up a fight. Our principles are worth fighting for. But we must fight effectively and to win people over — not just fight for the sole sake of fighting and to earn retweets and high-fives from people who already agree with us.
That effort will be critical if we hope to preserve the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for future generations. Efforts are already under way to normalize the idea of repealing the Second Amendment. Let’s engage and change minds.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.