Political Animal


January 09, 2013 5:12 PM Splits in the Gun Club

By Ed Kilgore

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 is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • MuddyLee on January 09, 2013 5:39 PM:

    All or nothing is not a good strategy. Get Walmart and hunters on board with reasonable regulation - hunters have children too. They know there are some crazy anti-govt militia types out there who shouldn't be playing with assault rifles.

  • c u n d gulag on January 09, 2013 6:02 PM:

    Since the Bradey Bill expired, and the Congress decided to let semi-automatic's with large magazines become legal again in 2004, if I'm not mistaken, the tide has been against gun control.

    Any wave, even a small on, is one in the right direction.

    Even if it's just WalMart, it's still a move in the right directions.

  • exlibra on January 09, 2013 9:08 PM:

    Places like my little town and the surrounding county, WalMart is *the* place where you get your guns (mostly for hunting; seems like everyone hunts around here, and the middle school has gun instruction as part of its curriculum). Gun shows and their loopholes cut into their business. As do internet gun sales. I wouldn't be surprised, if WalMart wasn't willing to get along with Obama on things like high capacity magazines and other military-style stuff (of which I doubt they sell much in any case), if Obama was willing to try and constrain the Internet sales of the same. A bit of quid pro quo, in the best bipartisan compromise tradition :)

  • Mike_K on January 09, 2013 9:13 PM:

    Wal Mart would be very foolish to get in bed with Obama. The health insurers did so because they wanted out of the insurance business. What does Wal Mart do except sell Chinese goods ?

  • Professor B in L.A. on January 09, 2013 10:22 PM:

    "Different issues create different coalitions"

    ZOMG. Why can't my fellow Democrats figure this out? I am SO TIRED of ideological purity tests that I'm damn-near ready to bolt the party for some pie-in-the-sky alternative. Maybe someone can resurrect Dr. Thompson's Freak Power ticket...

  • pjcamp on January 09, 2013 11:10 PM:

    This is a Congress that has yet to pass anything with Obama's name on it and is currently planning to filibuster several of his cabinet nominations. What on Earth makes them think any Obama gun bill has a chance in hell?

  • low-tech cyclist on January 10, 2013 12:24 PM:

    Different issues create different coalitions, and making common cause with Wal-Mart on guns doesn’t mean blessing their labor or purchasing practices.

    Exactly. If we can get something substantive done about gun control in the next few months with WallyWorld's help, then let's dance with the devil and get it done.

    It's not like it will tie our hands down the road with respect to doing something about rights for Wal-Mart's, and everyone else's, workers.