Memes, by their very nature, are incomplete thoughts. There’s no depth. No context. No substantiation. No detail. Just fleeting concepts that appear to sound “good” on face value.
And, they are out in force once again because of a socio-political event. The left, the right and the bots are all misrepresenting some aspect of the debate by oversimplifying things to snippets, soundbytes and memes. There are so many functionally incoherent ones circulating that it’s almost mindnumbing, but even many of the ones that on the surface may seem to be factual come crumbling down upon further scrutiny.
Take for example the now popular “30 years ago” trope. The right has pulled this out on several occasions already as a critique of the life in the twenty teens, be it with a rose colored eye to a more simple time that never really existed or a critique of post-Gen Xers, or a qualification current state of affairs – in this case the rise in mass shootings.
The precept is quite simple — the bad things that are happening now didn’t happen back then. The reason, as it is supposed in the meme, is because society was better back then. Supposedly, kids were better disciplined. Supposedly, some version of Christian God was more respected. Supposedly, we were a more homogeneously American society. And, so on and so forth… And, if we went back to those things there would be no more gun problem. There might not be any problems. After all, back in the old days, the world was a much better place.
What it’s not explicitly saying is that in the mid-80s was some kind of conservative euphoria since the Republicans had Reagan as President, a six year run of the Senate Majority and were becoming a powerful minority in the House as well as there being a conservative leaning split on the Supreme Court.
What the meme neglects to take into account are some of the following points of other things that have changed since the 80s that contribute heavily to our current state of affairs.
1991: Wayne Robert LaPierre, Jr rises to Executive Vice President and chief executive officer of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
The organization was founded in 1871 to “promote firearm competency.” For most of it’s history it was primarily an individual dues payer organization that worked on issues of safe and responsible individual firearms usage among sportsmen and enthusiasts. It was not strongly politically motivated and most of its donations were spent on education, not leveraging political influence.
This began to change during the mid-to-late 1970s when competing organizations such as Gun Owners of America (GOA) began to take more extreme stances on so-called “Second Amendment Rights violations,” such as the 1968 Gun Control Act and attacked the NRA, politicians and others the NRA are involved with in supporting those laws, diminishing the NRA’s influence and credibility as a gun group. Under LaPierre’s stewardship the NRA retaliates against these still growing threats and becomes increasingly politically involved, particularly as the small arms industry advocacy organization. Thus he repositioned the organization’s mission to take “the lead on politics serving the gun industry’s profitability” leading to much more aggressive stances on issues both socially and politically. His tactics were highly controversial from the beginning, including inspiring long time member, then President, Bush 43 to resign his membership. Early on his extremist views were limited to a narrow set of most regulated communication channels but with the advent of the internet through his tenure he and the organization have embraced the unregulated new media landscape to manipulate both the social and political conversation around fire arm ownership. The organization has faced ethical and legal challenges for its controversial behaviors by a number of watchdog groups, progressive lawmakers and even independent firearm owners.
Furthermore, the NRA-Political Victory Fund ranked as “one of the biggest spenders in congressional elections” beginning in the 1990s and continues to be among the largest and most consistent direct spenders on regional, state and Federal elections. The majority of what the organization now accepts in donations comes from the arms industry including a whopping 38.9M$ between 2005 and 2011 in one report. And, it spends the majority on lawmaker and regulatory lobbying, direct and indirect election support, and related political advocacy for the arms industry resulting in about 15.4M$ being spent on directly supporting Republican affiliated lawmakers in 2014 as opposed to supporting individual members and foundation programs of “competency” and “safety” which by some accounts received less than 10M$ in that same timeframe.
1996: Duane Parde rises to executive director of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)
The Conservative Caucus of State Legislators a project began in 1973, rooted in a larger Republican response to the Goldwater defeats, as a response by right-leaning politicians counter what it called liberal leaning Federal Agencies. The organization renamed itself in 1975 and became a federal nonprofit. The rise in its activities is often associated with the business activist movement that took shape in the decade and several of its leadership where involved in other conservative organizations including The Heritage Foundation. For the first few decades the organization worked primarily behind the scenes to provide support for conservative politicians.
During Parde’s tenure running the organization saw an increase in more publicly facing activity rather than simply staying behind the scenes providing memos and boiler plate legislative services. It began to delve more deeply into “social issues” outside of its historically business focused work and its board membership grew to include non-business political entities including the NRA.
The Criminal Justice Task Force, which would later be renamed to Public Safety and Elections Task Force, is one example of its social initiatives that grew substantially during this time. The Task Forces included NRA members, from their own board, from manufactures and as legislatures who were sponsored by the NRA. Examples of controversial legislative, regulatory and ballot initiatives that it was a produced on behalf of the NRA and arms manufacturers include the so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws that expand the “Castle Doctrine;” cleverly titled efforts such as “Defense of Free Market and Public Safety Resolution” “Emergency Powers Firearm Owner Protection Act” and “Consistency in Firearms Regulation Act” as well as more straight forward conventions like “Concealed Carry True Reciprocity Act” and companion “Concealed Carry Outright Recognition Act,” “Resolution on Firearms Purchase Waiting Periods” and indoctrination efforts “Resolution on Child Firearms Safety” and “Youth Firearm Safety Resolution” to name but a few examples.
Parde’s stewardship saw the organization continue to grown in membership and influence by embracing the growing partisanship that happened in the 1990s by embracing the socially conservative end of the spectrum. While the social issues offered strong wedges from which to build support many of the causes supported underlying business interests which was argued still maintained the spirit of the organizations roots. After all, greater access to firearms results in increasing sales for arms related businesses.
The organization’s influence wained under Lori Roman divisive leadership but initially rebounded under Ron Scheberle in 2010, such that it’s legislative membership reached 2,000, effectively 25% of the total seats, and produced over 1,000 bills per year with a 20% enactment success rate. By the time ALEC was exposed for manipulating politics in this manner by The Hill in a 2011 report the damage had already been done as hundreds of unnecessary changes in firearm regulation created by ALEC for the NRA had been put in effect.
1997: Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 in what was part of a string of 5-to-4 split decisions led by Justice Antonin Scalia. The Court reverses previous Lower Court decisions and results in the undermining the 1968 The Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), Pub. L 90-618, the 1993 the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, Pub. L. 103-159 and several other statutory provisions regarding background checks.
The decision was initially met with three dissents heavy critiquing Scalia’s approach. the Conservative leaning court now tipped its hand in terms of its approach to gun control. Since 1937 the commerce clause’s attributes were the foundation of much of the legal framework this case continues to provide a source of controversy as it ushered in the New Federalism movement by the Court, especially when paired along with the 1995 United States v. Lopez decision also regarding gun control.
The results of the decision were, in part, nullified by the completion of the federal background check database several years later and the fact that many interim provisions regarding background checks and other restrictions were embraced by the majority of law enforcement and offered high levels of support by the general public according to major polls at the time.
2004: Expiration of the the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 during the Bush 43 administration despite United States Department of Justice and the National Institute of Justice’s belief the ban should be renewed. while the quantifiable direct effects of the ban were deemed negligible in several research studies, the general consensus by a number of law enforcement groups, the the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and other independent researchers was that the continued ban was necessary because, in their estimation, there was correlative evidence to suggest the ban was useful.
The ten year “ban” originated because of State led efforts at localized bands and public outcry after the 1989 Stockton, CA school shooting. That was followed by increased public discourse after the 1991 Luby’s shooting and the 1993 101 California Street shooting which saw polling as rise as high as 77% of respondents at the time supporting a complete moritorium “on the manufacture, sale, and possession of such weapons.”
With the lapse of the ban that was originally supported by Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush 41 (as well as obviously Clinton who signed it into law) there has been an upward trendline for spree shootings, mass shootings and semi-automatic weapons related injury and death compared to the relatively flat period that occurred during the ban.
2008: District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570. It was a highly controversial 5-to-4 split decision that in ways redefined the interpretation of the Second Amendment’s awkwardly written, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” versus the “well regulated militia” clauses striking provisions of the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975.
Justice Scalia, a so-called “originalist” and noted extreme conservative, re-crafted the the interpretation of the clause from what the Court’s general consensus had been for over 100 years to now emphasizing the “individual” over “the militia” in the right granting and cleaving the concept of “natural right of self-defence” from an interpretation of the clause’s history based on a narrow reading of cherry picked discussion points from the drafting and adoption process.
Separate dissents by fellow justices Justice John Paul Stevens and Justice Stephen Breyer that were signed by all four dissenting Justices heavily criticized Scalia’s historically revisionist approach and questioned his logic in reading the original statute. Non-binding statements since by all four original Justices as well as those by former Justices who weren’t part of the decision and those who took the bench subsequent to the decision continue demonstrate how unique and unconventional Scalia’s reasoning was and remains. Lower Federal Courts continue to struggle with the application of how Scalia defined the individual right in Heller and are producing oft-conflicting ideas of how expansive the right is compared to the notion (as even Scalia set forth) that there are . Also, many constitutional scholars continue to disagree with Scalia’s logic and several of whom also claim to be “originalists” have openly wondered if the basis of the decision as justified as Scalia claimed it to be.
The court demonstrated in the Heller opinion it is capable of upending its own precedent. And, has shown in the past it is also capable of both acknowledging a mistake and subsequently correcting for it in future decisions. So, while Heller and subsequent opinions stemming from it may currently be “law of the land” interpretation of the Constitution’s application is not “fixed” forever once a decision is handed down so there is opportunity for a future court to examine Scalia’s unorthodox approach and come to a wholly different conclusion as to what the Second Amendment entails.
2010: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 was a highly controversial 5-to-4 split dealing with campaign finance, and corporate law case dealing regarding political campaign spending regulations.
While the NRA are not the only organization to benefit from the effects of the decision they are certainly winners as it allows them even greater ability to solicit funds and redirect them for political gain. And, by many estimates both their fundraising and their expenditures have skyrocketed in the years since Citizens United. Meanwhile, there is no equivalent example of fundraising or political spending rising in the same way on the side of fire arms control, in part, because there is no counter-voice organizations of a similar size and membership as these organizations primarily represent individual citizens and not a manufacturing industry.
2017 now, we have a sociocultural, political, statutory, regulatory and legal frame work that is considerably different than what the landscape was in the 1980s and all of the above examples are just as responsible for contributing to the massive change in American society as anything else, including some of the meme’s possible position.