Horowitz: Military Leaders Making a Difference on Gun Control Debate

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


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Rob Horowitz

A group of military veterans, including high profile Retired Army Generals Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus have recently come together to form an organization dedicated to passing common sense gun safety legislation. Organized by Mark Kelly, a Navy combat veteran and Astronaut, along with his wife former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was nearly fatally shot several years ago, Veterans Coalition for Common Sense argues advocates for expanded and tougher background checks, keeping guns out of the hands of people on terrorist watch lists, felons and domestic abusers and for banning the use of military style assault weapons, among other sensible measures.

Given the high regard in which military veterans are held, adding their voice to the gun control debate has the potential to move public opinion. In an era in which nearly all American institutions have precipitously declined in public trust, Americans remain highly confident in the military.  More than 7-in-10 Americans have either a ‘great deal of confidence” or “quite a lot of confidence” in the Military, according to the Gallup Poll.

This is particularly the case when military leaders assert that making it more difficult for terrorists to purchase guns is a essential component of doing all we can to prevent terrorism on the home-front.  This is the argument that is fueling the limited headway that is currently being made in the Senate on banning the sale of guns to  people on the more narrowly constructed terrorist watch list—legislation being advanced by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME)..

McChrystal,  senior commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 2009-2010, made the case powerfully in New York Times opinion piece, entitled “Home Should Not be a War Zone”, published soon after Orlando. “Today, some of our politicians and the people who back them seem to promote a culture of gun ownership that does not conform with what I learned in the military,” wrote McChrystal,”Here at home, many of us are alarmed by the carnage. We are alarmed by loopholes that let felons and domestic abusers get hold of guns without a background check. We are alarmed that a known or suspected terrorist can go to a federally licensed firearms dealer where background checks are conducted, pass that background check, legally purchase a firearm and walk out the door.”

McChrystal continued, “In my life as a soldier and citizen, I have seen time and time again that inaction has dire consequences. In this case, one consequence of our leaders’ inaction is that felons, domestic abusers and suspected terrorists have easy access to firearms.

Some opponents of closing these gaps in our laws will continue to argue that dangerous people will obtain guns in our country no matter what, and therefore that taking steps to make it harder for them is fruitless. That is both poor logic and poor leadership."

Given the political power and lobbying skill of the National Rifle Association, passing any gun safety measure remains an uphill fight.  But the addition of the credible voices of our military veterans to the battle for gun safety is already making a difference. Over time, it  can be a contributing factor to creating a sufficiently favorable political environment  for realizing the adoption of common sense gun control measures.


Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island


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