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Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
The day after this week’s elections, the National Rifle Association got exactly what it wanted: a front-page New York Times story about Colorado results that supposedly sent “lawmakers across the country a warning about the political risks of voting for tougher gun laws.” That article, and many others like it, came after the gun lobby mounted successful recall campaigns against two state legislators who, in the wake of mass shootings, voted for universal background checks, limits on the capacity of bullet magazines and restrictions on domestic abusers owning firearms.
Despite the recalls being anomalously low-turnout affairs, the national media helped the gun lobby deliver a frightening message to politicians: Vote for modest gun control and face political death.
For all that reductionism, though, there are more nuanced lessons from these elections.
First and foremost, with statewide polls showing that most Coloradans support modest gun control and opposed the recall campaigns, the elections prove that in low-turnout situations, a relatively small group of pro-gun voters can still win the day.
Additionally, with gun extremists issuing threats of violence against pro-gun-control legislators, Colorado Democrats stopped explaining why their gun legislation was so necessary. In light of that, the election results are a reminder that when politicians don’t stay on the message offensive, they quickly find themselves on the electoral defensive. This is especially the case when, as a Pew survey documented, voters who oppose gun control tend to be more motivated single-issue voters than those who support gun control.
That intensity gap, of course, is the most significant story of the Colorado elections because it reveals how different people ascribe different meanings to the gun debate.
To most of us, the political discourse about firearms is about policies that attempt to strike a balance between liberty and safety. But the visceral reaction to gun control by firearm advocates suggest they see the same discourse as less about policy than about culture. In that view, the gun is an all-encompassing symbol of larger attitudes, lifestyles and geographies. Consequently, modest proposals to regulate guns are viewed as assaults on an entire way of life.
Simply comparing the gun control initiatives with the anti-gun-control rhetoric illustrates this dynamic.
Nobody can honestly argue that background checks, magazine limits and restrictions on domestic abusers diminish most citizens’ ability to defend themselves. Likewise, nobody can honestly argue such policies are an indiscriminate effort to confiscate all guns.
Yet, that’s exactly what is argued by gun advocates in campaign mailers and in conservative media. And even though such arguments are patently absurd, they can succeed because they aren’t about substance. Instead, they are designed to generate resentment against a perceived cultural affront.
Inevitably, the gun lobby will now claim the Colorado elections prove that politicians should back off even minimal gun regulations. But the elections say the opposite — they say that if the gun lobby is going to continue turning a policy debate into a cultural one, then an equally powerful cultural argument needs to be made in response.
If, for example, the gun lobby wrongly declares that pro-gun-control politicians are fully eliminating gun rights, then those politicians must not merely show that such assertions are inaccurate. They must also show that the gun lobby’s agenda is eliminating too many lives.
If the gun lobby dishonestly claims that those politicians are taking away the freedom to own guns, then those politicians must argue that the gun lobby is taking away others’ freedom from guns.
In short, if the gun lobby is going to keep using demagoguery to prevent a constructive discussion, then that demagoguery must be combatted with an appeal to another way of life — one in which the gun is no longer unquestioningly worshiped as a holy talisman.
David Sirota is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and the best-selling author of the books "Hostile Takeover," "The Uprising" and "Back to Our Future." E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com. More David Sirota.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)