Friday, May 6, 2011

A "major victory" for gun control in Illinois? Let's think that one through.

SecondCityCop has a link to the Chicago Sun-Times' giddy piece on yesterday's defeat of concealed carry in Illinois, "Conceal-Carry bill fails in House," in which the Sun-Times' Springfield Bureau Chief, Dave McKinney, calls the vote a "major win" for gun control advocates.

SCC made several great points about the article, but those are their points and I'll let you read them over there. What interested me about the article was the assertion of "a big win." I don't see it.

Let's think about where gun control advocates in Illinois used to be and where they are today. I remember a very different situation until recently. Years ago, Mayor Daley's staff would write an annual package of 10-12 severe gun control bills--one-gun-a-month, state permits for gun shops to be granted or withheld on a whim, bans on everything from "assault weapons" to .50 caliber rifles to shotguns, bans on manufacturing "assault weapons" that would have prohibited Armalite and Les Baer from even manufacturing AR-15 rifles for the military or police . . . and would have made it a felony for a police officer or a serviceman to possess his issued M4 or M16 rifle in Illinois, even on duty (that law did allow for an "affirmative defense," at least.) Gun rights advocates spent every spring and fall scrambling to defend against all these bills and often 20-30 "minor" bills. Victories for gun rights consisted of language cleverly slipped into ostensibly anti-gun bills.

Then came a different spirit. The NRA and the ISRA and Guns Save Life and the Second Amendment Sisters and CORE and the new kid,, began to work together and coordinate their efforts more and more. There were turf battles and misunderstandings, but people were beginning to see results, too. The annual "lobby day" was rechristened "IGOLD" and exploded, growing into an annual event in which thousands of Illinois gun owners flood into the capitol building in Springfield and lobby for their rights en masse. Then came Heller v. D.C., and too quickly to be believed, McDonald v. Chicago. It's hard for a lot of people, I think, to really call up memories of what it was like in those not-so-long-ago days, but I remember it. It was depressing. We celebrated when we had years where we didn't lose any rights; keeping the status quo was a major win for us.

Now, let's look at 2011. What has changed in the past few years? Well, we're no longer playing defense. Our side is the one demanding change now; a year in which we have to settle for the status quo is "a big win" for gun control. If we don't engineer an overwhelming victory against long odds, creating a supermajority in both the House and the Senate and then overriding a veto, it's perceived as a loss. The expectations have changed massively; people now expect David to dominate Goliath and make him like it. And what does it look like from their point of view? Luckily, I've made a list:
  • First, the roles are reversed: the anti-gun side has been reduced to playing defense, and they're giddy about stopping right-to-carry legislation they used to laugh off without thinking much of it.
  • Second, have you noticed what you're not hearing out of Illinois this year? No assault weapons bans, no magazine bans? They were running all those bills this year, too . . . . but they came too close to losing on RTC and decided to let them all go by the wayside so that they could spend all their time stopping RTC.
  • Third . . . what did it take to make that "big win" happen? It doesn't seem like Governor Quinn's threat of a veto actually did very much, despite the hype. Legislators are talking instead about personal phone calls from Mayor Daley, who frankly still has the power to "lobby" legislators by threatening the state jobs, city jobs, county jobs, patronage and other perks they hold so dear. Of course, Daley has 10 days left as Mayor of Chicago, so unless Rahm is just as powerful from the start as Daley is after 22 years as Mayor, that's the last time they can play that particular trump.
  • Fourth and finally, when the dust settles, they may very well have stopped the bill from becoming law. But we won everything but the big prize: we changed the status quo, showed that RTC is a real issue in Illinois and that it's closer to passage than anyone believed, and we're going to end up with a list of every legislator who didn't vote for the bill, along with video footage of quite a few standing up on the floor of the House telling lies in the floor debate. They're like desperate criminals who've managed to retreat into the bank vault they were trying to cut open. We can't get them immediately, but they have nowhere to go, no idea what to do, and they left their tools out here for us to use. It's a matter of time.
On the one hand, excuses don't pay the bills, and it's true that we failed to win the war yesterday. On the other hand, we've won a lot of battles this year that not everyone recognizes, and it cost the other side dearly to get that "big win" in this one battle. Governor Quinn and Speaker Madigan have thrown away whatever good will they had remaining from downstate Democrat legislators after dragging them along on civil unions, the end of the death penalty in Illinois, and a massive income tax increase (full disclosure: I'm personally all for gay marriage and taking the power of life and death out of the hands of Illinois courts, but those issues are going to be poison pills forced down the throats of those Democrat legislators from downstate districts.) Several members of the Black Caucus, especially Rep. Monique Davis, have thrown away a chance to show that they're not completely in thrall to the Democratic leadership, and some very good organizers on Chicago's south side have taken notice. They held on, but they're in big trouble.