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by Dr. Michael S. Brown


The always fascinating cultural war over the right to bear arms has taken another interesting turn. Leaders of the anti-gun lobby know that they are now in a fragile stalemate and are seeking to tilt the balance in their favor. Their new strategy is dictated by the nature of the two opposing forces.

Anti-gun groups are small, relatively few in number, and based exclusively in major cities. They are funded by large donations from liberal-left foundations and wealthy individuals who seek to change society to fit their desired model.

Gun rights groups have evolved on a different pattern. There are hundreds of them, in all types and sizes, scattered throughout the country. The majority of their money comes from dues paid by members who just want to keep the rights they have. These members, as many as four million in the case of the NRA, are the source of their political power.

Lacking a large membership, the anti-gun lobby has used mass advertising and a blindly sympathetic media to spread their message. This has worked well in the past, thanks to the well documented media bias and diabolically clever marketing techniques. But it exposes them to charges that they are elitist organizations, financed by millionaires who want to disarm the unwashed masses.

To alleviate this unseemly situation and shift the power balance in their favor, the anti-gun lobby has spawned a new crop of surrogates and a new strategy that seeks to imitate the grassroots success of the NRA. The optimistically named Million Mom March and First Monday 2000, for example, are attempting to recruit new members at the local level by staging marches and rallies.

This shift in strategy is doomed to failure. It also reveals how poorly the leaders of the anti-gun groups understand their opponents.

After enduring decades of mean-spirited demonization, gun owners across America are extremely angry and frustrated. They are tired of writing letters and donating money to slow the nanny state juggernaut. When vengeful gun owners hear of an anti-gun event in their area, the are overjoyed that they can finally meet the enemy face to face.

In dozens of cities, anti-gun rallies have been met by large numbers of counter-demonstrators singing and waving signs with hard hitting gun rights slogans. Well-dressed and well-spoken gun owners have slipped quietly into public round table discussions on gun control and dominated the discussion. In several cases the anti-gun people have been outnumbered at their own event.

At a recent candlelight vigil sponsored by the Million Moms in Vancouver, Washington, fifty pro-rights demonstrators, armed with their famous signs, appeared to contest the issue. Considering that only sixty people attended the vigil, the local newspapers and television stations could not ignore the demonstrators. Instead of the usual glowing account of the saintly Moms, the resulting stories described the conflict between the two groups, including the thought provoking slogans, "Guns protect moms and kids." and "Gun haters ignore the real causes of crime."

Depending on the effectiveness of the gun rights demonstrators and the reaction of the local media, anti-gun rallies can actually be counterproductive. The only thing media people like better than a good story about gun violence is a story about two opposing forces clashing in the streets. Journalists love to denigrate the sinister gun lobby, but it's an entirely different matter when their own neighbors are demonstrating in the streets to save the Second Amendment.

Dozens of small guerrilla-like groups have spontaneously formed to organize these efforts. They are not controlled by the NRA. In fact, many participants are angry with the NRA for being soft in its defense of the Constitution. They are entirely self-sustaining and do not divert any resources from national organizations.

These local gun rights activists benefit from a delicious irony. Although gun owners are amazingly law abiding and generally very polite, they can be frightening to people who have absorbed the propaganda about evil guns and dangerous gun owners. These are precisely the people who are needed to populate the anti-gun rallies. In this case the demonization campaign has backfired. Loyal gun prohibitionists are less willing to take to the streets when they believe that they will be met by the very demons they've been warned about.

The anti-gun lobby has foolishly tried to attack the strongest part of the pro-gun community. Instead of leveling the playing field with the NRA, this ill-conceived strategy will consume resources while it reveals how little support anti-gun groups have at the grassroots level.

Dr. Michael S. Brown is an optometrist and member of Doctors for Sensible Gun Laws. He may be reached at:  You can read other articles of his at