Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism.
When President Trump won, it was good news for the stock market and for many industries. But firearms manufacturers weren’t one of them. Gun sales had hit astronomical numbers under a hostile administration. Threats of confiscations and restrictions were one ingredient in the sales boom. But firearms ownership was also a cultural statement of opposition to the new leftist ruling class.
Firearms manufacturers had been expecting a Hillary victory and a post-election burst of buying. Instead the ‘Trump Slump’ arrived. It hit manufacturers, gun store owners, lobbies and activists. Anecdotally, I heard from activist groups how challenging getting people involved had suddenly become. The NRA shifted to an ad campaign that seemed more about cultural warfare than fighting gun control legislation.
But the slump only lasted until a new gun control push rolled in.
Since February 2018, every month this year has seen the number of background checks (a statistic used to partially track firearms sales) exceed the same number in 2017. The Parkland shootings happened in February. The gun control exploitation and legislative surge that followed boosted March checks to 2.7 million. That number is so huge that it seems to have no precedent in the database.
If Michael Bloomberg were truly brilliant, he would have secretly invested in firearms manufacturers before beginning his latest campaign. Flagging firearms stocks have been recovering and rising.
And NRA membership and donations are up, not despite the attacks, but because of them.
The new campaign to destroy firearms manufacturers economically by targeting financial institutions is ugly, but also absurd. Firearms manufacturers were facing far more financial problems before the gun control push threw them a solid lifeline. The activists trying to destroy them are also keeping them alive.
Obama’s first month in office saw background checks almost double over the same period in Bush’s first term. The checks hit 2 million for the first time in November 2012 as gun control made for big gun sales.
The Democrats had succeeded in making firearms ownership a partisan issue. Red-state Dems paid the price for the triumph of San Francisco gun control snobs. But the gun control push also turned what had been for most a hobby or a sport into an act of political resistance. Having politicized gun ownership, the left has been forced to contend with a politicized base of gun owners. Sneering at them created a sense of cultural solidarity that transcends the fact of gun ownership and taps into other cultural issues.
The gun control left sustains the gun lobbies and the culture that it rails against. If it really wanted to win, all it would have to do is stop the gun control hysteria. Red state Dems would be able to recover some ground. A Dem coalition could use its newfound power to accelerate immigration, which along with urbanization and college indoctrination, reduces support for the second amendment.
Democrats have occasionally tried to do this, only to get shut down by their own donor network.
And then they launch another major gun control push. They score some limited victories, the 2A base rallies and they get handed another string of losses in key states. The millions they squandered on gun control could just as easily have been mailed directly to the Republican National Committee.
This, if nothing else, shows that the gun control push isn’t rational. It’s not the sensible, inevitable or common sense plan that the activists claim it is. Guns are a symbol. And culture wars are about stamping out or uplifting certain symbols to represent who we are who we think the ‘other’ is.
Gun control has very little to do with the actual epidemic of gang shootings in cities like Chicago. America doesn’t have a gun violence problem; it has a gang violence problem. There’s no sign that banning firearms in red states would prevent gang members from getting guns. Europe’s gun control laws haven’t prevented its criminals and terrorists from obtaining rifles and hand grenades.
Meanwhile lefty pro-crime policies like sentencing reform, decriminalization and weakening police powers keep feeding the gun violence problem. When the Dems defend MS-13, one of the country’s worst gangs, it’s hard to take their claims of wanting to save lives by ending the violence.
The left’s identity politics aren’t just racial. Most of the left is white. And beyond the checkbox policies of socialism, its members, upscale, urban and arrogant, need an ‘other’ to define what they are not. Gun control is an identity politics marker. San Francisco lefty tourists are just as horrified at the sight of open carry as Midwestern tourists of another era were at encountering San Francisco’s sexual shenanigans.
When Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach rode in a parade with a replica machine gun, the outrage was deep and visceral, but indefinable, lodged in the sense of inappropriateness of the complainants. And Kobach and ordinary conservatives projected a cheerful satisfaction, having learned the trick of taking the countercultural initiative by provoking the left into scolding indignation by flouting its mores.
"Kris Kobach wants you to be triggered by his big, bad, fake gun. Don’t take the bait," the Kansas City Star Editorial Board pleaded. To no avail. Triggering is a response to an attack on your identity.
The left needs guns to define itself against. Just as it needs all the other things that it opposes to define a negative movement. Conservatives define themselves by tradition. Lefties define themselves through the destruction of tradition. But that means that lefties are constantly abandoning the past and jumping into the future with nothing to hold on to except a superior sneering at everything that came before.
The party of Jefferson and Jackson has already abandoned both to conservatives. It tossed away its old championing of the working class. And Republicans have picked that one up too. Along with Israel, pro-life positions, the anthem and gun ownership as the left lightens its load to reinvent itself yet again.
Even while it disdains the right, the left’s negative orientation forces it to define itself by the right. It is, what the right isn’t. And, in this cycle, the opposition of the left helps define the right.
Some Democrats still want to win over gun owners, but their party is being steered by bicoastal donors for whom guns are a class signifier. Poor people own guns. The elite have bodyguards. In contrast to their shining technocracies, only a dangerously chaotic system would allow anyone to own a gun.
At a San Francisco fundraiser, Obama sneered that Midwestern voters, "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them."
That remark monetized the antipathy of his donor class to the ordinary people who aren’t like them.
Obama spelled out how the people who dominate the Dems don’t see themselves. They’re not gun owners and they’re irreligious. They welcome immigrants and globalism because these leaven the influence of the people who aren’t like them, yet due to the Electoral College, elect presidents.
The gun control movement exists because San Francisco donors like these cling to their antipathy toward people who aren’t like them as a defining point of their own identity. They know they’re a superior elite because they aren’t anything like those people in Pennsylvania. And their gun control activism isn’t a serious effort to stamp out firearms ownership, but to assert their superiority.
The media often assails what it calls gun culture. But its anti-gun culture needs guns to survive.