with more community-oriented values.
Gun control is one of those foundational, dual-benefit policies.
Usually such policies are easy to identify. The Employee Free Choice Act would have improved middle-class economic prospects while strengthening a specific bloc of Democratic support, organized labor. Democratic-led immigration reform will not only empower millions of people and lift the economy, but it will also help strengthen support among the key -- and growing -- Democratic demographic of Latinos.
Much has been made by people like Greg Sargent and others of a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showing that "the 'coalition of the ascendant' that will increasingly comprise the core of the Democratic Party's support as demographic shifts continue -- is made up of nonwhites, young Americans, and white, college educated voters, particularly women. These latter groups all support a ban" on assault weapons.
But it's not just that gun control is desired by these groups -- it may actually be necessary to preserving Democratic support among these groups in the long run. And the reason has to do with a subtle impact on values.
Many commentators commit the fallacy of assuming that various demographic blocs are, if not monolithic in their beliefs, then at least stable in their values over time. But demographics have a way of seeing changes in values over time. For example, the Democratic Party's coalition for many decades included working class white males quite prominently. But eventually, Republicans figured out how to drive wedges between that demographic and the Democratic Party -- largely by playing up values like individualistic independence that members of that demographic had in their brains.
Guns famously made up one of those wedges, and because they appeal so strongly to that value. Or maybe that "value" should be characterized as an illusion:
After all, a population of privately armed citizens is one that is increasingly fragmented, and vulnerable as a result. Private gun ownership invites retreat into extreme individualism — I heard numerous calls for homeschooling in the wake of the Newtown shootings — and nourishes the illusion that I can be my own police, or military, as the case may be. The N.R.A. would have each of us steeled for impending government aggression, but it goes without saying that individually armed citizens are no match for government force.The more guns are allowed to flourish, the more the illusion of false security in individualism is likely to take root in our society. That's including among many of the demographic groups that are currently hailed as ascendant and as the building blocks of a lasting Democratic majority, since many members of those groups likely also accommodate portions of other varying value systems in their brains. And the more that value takes hold, the less those groups (and all others) will prize Democratic values of community and interdependence.
So yes, gun control is a worthy cause. It will make our malls, movie theaters, schools, places of worship, and communities safer. It is supported by many demographic groups that have been key to electing Democrats, and Democratic officeholders are duty-bound to pursue the priorities of their constituents. But there's a very real dual benefit to this policy. Dialing back our gun fetish keeps us from retreating into a fantasy of individual power. It keeps the path to power in the group arena, and that gives everyone a stake in working together with at least someone. And fostering those community-oriented values will help keep these and other demographics supporting Democratic policies that come out of community values (e.g. Social Security, infrastructure investment) for years to come.
I'm Will Bunnett. I work with various Democratic campaigns through Trilogy Interactive.