Since the introduction of the Second Amendment in 1791, gun control has been a heavily debated topic in the U.S. While those in favor of gun control spoke out after the recent Las Vegas massacre, those opposed to gun control are often less vocal following an attack.
Protesters on both sides of the gun control debate often take to social media platforms to air their grievances. But the issue is more complicated than a simple Twitter post would let on.
The state of gun control
After any mass shooting, gun control protesters gather in person and online, passionately fighting to increase gun control measures in the nation. But those equally passionate people opposed to increased measures of gun control want their opinions heard as well.
Steven Billet, a policy expert on gun control, said he “regrettably” gives a lot of interviews after incidents of gun violence, like the recent Vegas attack.
As a former political action committee (PAC) manager, lobbyist and now a faculty member at George Washington University, Billet explained how it is possible for there to be partisan control of gun laws in the U.S. According to Billet, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has a lot of influence.
“The NRA essentially controls the Republican party,” Billet said.
He said it’s regrettable for an organization to have that kind of control over a political party in a democracy. And Billet said the problem that is relatively unique to the U.S.
“The NRA worked very, very hard to put itself in a strong position politically.”
Billet said he fields many calls requesting information and comments after gun violence incidents. He said many of them come from international journalists, hoping to grasp how gun violence like this can happen, since they often do not have similar attacks in their countries.
“A lot of foreign news organizations come to us with questions because they really don’t, I think, have a good appreciation for the way things happen in our political environment,” Billet said. “I don’t think they understand or appreciate the extent to which gun rights organizations have an impact on our political system.”
The NRA has enormous sway over the types of legislation that do or do not get introduced. But how did they get so much power in the government?
“They did it the old-fashioned way—they earned it,” Billet said. “The NRA worked very, very hard to put itself in a strong position politically.”
According to Billet, the NRA built an organization with more than five million members, but it didn’t stop there. It also communicates on a weekly basis with its members and keeps them up-to-date with what is happening politically so they can be involved and voice their agenda on gun control.
In addition, some congressional members are sensitive to the possibility that they could get voted out of office after any term, leaving them ready to cooperate with major supporters like the NRA.
With the current political climate — the Republican majority in Congress and a Republican president — Billet does not anticipate any change in the NRA’s legislative path.
“We’re just not going to see much happening, unfortunately,” Billet said.
Taking to social media
Hand-painted picket signs are being traded for the effective use of hashtags on Twitter.
After the Vegas massacre, a flurry of tweets marked with #guncontrol appeared on Twitter — while some supported increased gun control measures, others opposed the concept.
— Tactical-reviews.com (@Tactical_review) October 19, 2017
— KV (@KVertichio) October 19, 2017
Janet Johnson, a professor at the University of Texas, is an expert in social media and the political process. She told The Dallas News that social media is helping people organize protests in a way that was never possible before the internet.
This is the case in many recent protests, including the push for additional gun control following the Vegas attack.
Getting to know the opposition (to gun control)
In the wake of the Vegas massacre last month, gun control is a sore topic. While violence and tragedies tend to bring out the avid supporters of gun control, the opposition holds just as tightly to their opinions.
“What we have seen is the temporary emotional lift that gun control groups get in the wake of a massacre like Las Vegas is exactly that — temporary,” Billet said. “It doesn’t sustain itself. And they’re not in a position where they can counteract the kind of impact that the NRA has.”
While some push for more gun control, others hold tightly to their gun ownership rights.
Of those gun owners, 67 percent say they own the gun for protection.
According to Tyler Yzaguirre, the founder of the Second Amendment Institute in Newark, Del., many college students don’t support gun ownership for one of two reasons.
“The majority of students don’t like guns because they’re either poisoned by the liberal media, or they’re just scared of them,” Yzaguirre said. “In most cases, they’re scared of them.”
According to the 2017 Pew Research report, the people who believe that protecting gun ownership rights is more important than controlling gun ownership are mostly white, conservative, and male.
A different 2017 Pew Research report shows that 42 percent of Americans live in a home with a gun, and almost a third of Americans say they own at least one gun.
Of those gun owners, 67 percent say they own the gun for protection. Approximately three-quarters of gun owners say their right to own guns is “essential” to their personal freedom (compared to about 35 percent of non-gun owners).
In the Supreme Court
Since the creation of the Second Amendment and the “right to bear arms,” gun control is a topic that has been rehashed in the American legal system time and time again.
In 2008, the court ruled that the current D.C. law banning handgun ownership was unconstitutional. In 2010, the court continued to hold that gun ownership in the U.S. is a constitutional right.
Opposition to gun control has long been a powerful force due to influence by organizations like the NRA, and so far, the U.S. legal system has never let it down.