April 24, 2005

A Coin With One Side?

It didn't take Glenn Reynolds long to pick up on a New York Times article reporting that the repeal of the assault weapons ban hasn't led to a surge in gun-related crimes.

"The ban was symbolic legislation, designed to bolster the media profiles and direct-mail efforts of gun control lobby groups, while building momentum for eventual complete gun confiscation (something that some gun-control enthusiasts admitted, and others unconvincingly denied)."

A sinister conspiracy against gun rights or or a nefarious effort to boost gun control groups' fundraising? Why, both, obviously. What about the campaign to repeal a ban that everyone who understood the issue recognized was largely symbolic -- was it a sinister conspiracy to ensure that no teenager wanting to shoot up a school would lack the means to do it or a nefarious effort to boost the NRA's fundraising?

Glenn doesn't say. This may be because he believes whatever the NRA says about this subject. Or, it may be because he understands that for a membership-based organization involved with public policy the first priority is always -- always -- to convince its membership that it is threatened in some way, needs the organization's advocacy, and is morally obligated to send the organization money. The organization may indeed have objectives additional to this, but not always. The assault weapons ban may have been symbolic and no threat to gun rights at all, but the effort to repeal it did allow NRA leaders and staff to show the membership that they were busy. If the ban had never passed, the NRA would have just come up with some other reason to get its members to send money. One might say the same of gun control groups, I suppose, but the NRA seems to have had more success recently.

I don't want to say that the way to approach the advocacy of membership-based organizations is to start by assuming that they are not on the level. I don't want to say it because this assumption requires a lot more work, to separate the causes that have legitimate merit from those being promoted to show that the organizations doing something. But I'll say it anyway, because it's true.

Posted by at April 24, 2005 05:12 PM | TrackBack (5)

This is a pretty interesting post, but I'm not sure what groups count as a membership-based organization under this rubric. Any institution which relies primarily for its funding on relatively small donations from a large membership base? Why does this necessarily lead to different incentives than, for instance, think tanks? Think tanks tend to use a different funding model, but it seems like similar problems might exist there.

Posted by: washerdreyer at April 24, 2005 09:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The effort to ban so called assault-weapons was symbolic only in the sense of crime control. There was nothing symbolic about the assault-weapon ban as far as gun rights. I imagine that today there are still some people in Federal prison for nothing more than violation of the Federal assault weapon ban, even though the law no longer exists.

Posted by: Brad at April 28, 2005 10:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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