When looking at how power affects politics there are many different issues that can be explored to demonstrate the construction of a power structure. This year especially, gun rights has been a prevalent issue with the amount of mass shootings that has taken place in San Bernardino, Orlando, and many other cities. The arguments for and against gun control provide the perfect platform to explore the constructs of power, including the sources and conduits of each side’s power and how each side is benefitting from the laws of power explain by Eric Liu in his book You’re More Powerful Than You Think.
First, there must be an acknowledgment to a huge source of power on the side of the pro gun rights movement: The National Rifle Association (NRA). This organization empowers the pro gun movement by funneling huge amounts of money into lobbying for gun rights. Wealth can be a major source of power, and in this case, The NRA’s wealth is a huge advantage over the pro restriction movement, which comparatively has very little wealth. The NRA itself is a huge conduit of power: It is an organization that brings huge numbers of people together to vouch for a cause, and in its numbers it brings validity to the movement. The pro restriction movement does have numbers and it is organized, but it does not have the benefit of being organized under such a large, official organization that has the trappings of state recognition.
A source of power that both movements share is state action, which is the use of bureaucracy to compel people to do or not do certain things. On the pro gun rights side, state action is pursued through the conduit of law: a set of incentives and disincentives, rewards and punishments, that shape our public actions. There were major court cases that cemented gun rights in the law. One is District of Columbia v Heller (2008), in which the court ruled, as expressed in Justice Scalia’s majority opinion, that the second amendment should be read to "guarantee an individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.” He also stated that “banning handguns, an entire class of arms that is commonly used for protection purposes, and prohibiting firearms from being kept functional in the home, the area traditionally in need of protection, violates the Second Amendment.” This sealed the idea that guns are a right that must be afforded to the people and created the narrative that guns are used for protection. It also created a standard for regulations and restrictions that had an effect on how gun laws and restrictions were drafted. On the side of the pro restriction movement, state action takes the form of Obama’s initiatives on gun control and his employment of congress to take action. HIs stance is to expand background checks for buyers so as to really limit who gets the right to bear arms. Other state action has been put into place in the form of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban which was a part of Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and the background checks and license requirements that are already in place. Through the use of the institution of government and congress Obama and pro control activists hope to gain power through changing the laws in order to strengthen restrictions.
Another source of power that both sides use is the power of ideas. In this case, the idea of individual liberty is the driving force in the argument for gun rights. this idea is made especially strong by the presence of the second amendment in our Bill of Rights: the right to bear arms. The fact that this right is stated in such an important historical document gives a lot of power to the idea of individual liberty. There is a lot of historical relevance to this idea as well as during colonial times and throughout history guns were used for self defense and defense of property and against the British. This has created a narrative that guns are used for protection, strengthened by the decision in the supreme court case discussed earlier. Pro gun rights activists have now tapped into the fear of the people, stating that without guns many will be defenseless against attack. especially with the mass shooting that have garnered so much attention today many are starting to believe tat the only way to stop mass shootings and defend oneself against them is to have a gun unhand so that one can shoot an attacker down. There is also the idea that one is less likely to be attacked if they are known to be armed. another idea is extremely prevalent with gun rights activists, which is fear that if one gives the government an inch in terms of regulating guns, they will take it a mile and try to get rid of guns in general. This is a threat to many peoples way of life. Therefore, those who are advocating for gun rights are portraying themselves as the protectors of the individual. on the pro restrictions side, very similar dynamics are taking place. Pro restriction activist also tap into the public fear: the fear of gun violence and mass shooting. The increase of mass shooting in 2016 along with the increase in media attention has sparked many, including Obama to launch a campaign for gun control. The idea is that with more gun restrictions, people who are likely to insight violence on such a mass scale with not be able to access gun and the number of mass shooting with be curtailed. Pro restriction activist are also attacking the second amendment in it’s application to modern day. They bring up the argument that this amendment was created when very primitive gun technology was available, and now with the increased destructive ability of firearms, the law must be adjusted to accommodate this change. They also portray themselves as protectors, but in this case they are protectors of the masses instead of the individual. Both sides use the conduit of networks, especially social media to discuss their ideas and gain more supporters.
The NRA and pro gun rights activist seem to have the upper hand. This can be analyzed through the laws of power discussed by Eric Liu. The first law is that power compounds. Those who are in power gain more power and this is where the NRA has the upper hand. The right to bear arms established in District of Columbia v Heller (2008) was compounded by Mcdonald v City of Chicago (2010) which stated that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense was applicable to the states. This further cemented the idea that the individual has the right to bear arms. The NRA also compounds its power by the grading system it gives politicians. They grade politicians based on their stances and the more people who align themselves with the NRA the more republicans fear how the grading system will affect their election. Therefore, politicians are more likely to align themselves with the NRA in order to get a higher grade and increase their chance of election. The second law is that power justifies itself, and again the NRA has the advantage over pro restriction activists. Supreme court cases and interpretations of the second amendment, again, are largely the cause of the justification behind gun ownership. Since such highly esteemed institutions favor the view of individuals rights to bear arms, the NRA is justified in its movement. When looking at these two laws it seems as though the NRA has a huge advantage, but as Eric Liu explains, the third law - power is infinite - gives hope that the pro restriction movement can prevail and make change. This infinite power is tapped into by organizing and gun control activist are beginning to organize in more effective ways. There have been protests and actions taken by government. The most memorable movement was the sit in by congress. They sat on the floor of the congress and refused to proceed unless there was a discussion on gun restrictions. Another way the pro restriction activists have tried to swing the balance in their favor is to employ a tactic Eric Liu explains in his book: “If reform activists are to succeed, they will have to demonstrate both in their storylines and in their policy proposals that power is positive-sum” (LIU). In a sense, they have to show that they aren’t taking away power or rights from anyone. They do this by explaining that their goal is not a total taking away of guns but a restriction so that only those who are eligible can get them, so law abiding citizens will still have access to guns. It is through this argument that there has been a to of success on the side of pro gun control.