Splits in the Gun Club

Why is the White House apparently so bullish on actually making progress on gun regulation? Aroused citizens not willing to let the gun lobby push them around any more are part of the new picture. But a more tangible factor is the prospect of splitting the Second Amendment club between the people who just want firearms for hunting or home security, and those who want assault rifles (often, according to their own rhetoric, in case violent insurrection against the U.S. government becomes necessary).

This split might, morever, be manifested in the defection of gun retailers from the gun lobby, as TNR’s Bill Scher explains:

[T]he White House’s emerging strategy, according to the Washington Post, includes this possible gambit: “rallying support from Wal-Mart and other gun retailers for measures that would benefit their businesses….”

Would Walmart go for it? It’s plausible. Unlike edgy gun shows that serve niche markets, Walmart needs to maintain an image with broad appeal, beyond those who dream of assembling a militia in their backyard. This is why Walmart previously partnered with Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns to establish security guidelines for hiring, training staff, and conducting sales that goes beyond what’s required by law. It’s also why Walmart will participate in Thursday’s session of Vice President Joe Biden’s gun control task force, a decision the company made just hours after suffering criticism for saying it had a scheduling conflict. If the choice today is between Barack Obama or Wayne LaPierre, it’s no contest.

Scher richly documents the consternation this gambit is creating among Second Amendment ultras and conservatives generally, who are complaining about “corporate cronyism” as though they have a problem with cozy relations between politicians and corporate leaders.

But he also notes the spectacle of Obama making common cause with Wal-Mart will create the same kind of progressive heartburn he created via his deals with Big Pharma and others on health reform.

Here Scher ascends the lectern:

The problem is we live in a world where the NRA is extremely organized, Republicans still control the House and several swing states contain significant numbers of gun owners. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart isn’t unionizing anytime soon and the iron is hot for gun control. Priorities have to be made, and compromises have be accepted, if we are to have action and not grandstanding. If Wal-Mart can help pick the lock of the House, and diminish fears that the government will snatch guns away from responsible owners, other battles must wait.

I’d look at it a bit differently. Different issues create different coalitions, and making common cause with Wal-Mart on guns doesn’t mean blessing their labor or purchasing practices. It’s not the same as cutting deals with Big Pharma on Big Pharma’s core business, and you can certainly make the argument that means was justified by the passage of ACA.

But Scher’s right: getting something done on gun violence, and taking the NRA (not to mention its insane rival on the far Right, the Gun Owners of America) down several pegs is worth the moral costs of saying something nice–though not everything nice–about Wal-Mart.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.