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The Missing Movement for Gun Control in America

Kristin A. Goss

Publication Year: 2010

More than any other advanced industrial democracy, the United States is besieged by firearms violence. Each year, some 30,000 people die by gunfire. Over the course of its history, the nation has witnessed the murders of beloved public figures; massacres in workplaces and schools; and epidemics of gun violence that terrorize neighborhoods and claim tens of thousands of lives. Commanding majorities of Americans voice support for stricter controls on firearms. Yet they have never mounted a true national movement for gun control. Why? Disarmed unravels this paradox.

Based on historical archives, interviews, and original survey evidence, Kristin Goss suggests that the gun control campaign has been stymied by a combination of factors, including the inability to secure patronage resources, the difficulties in articulating a message that would resonate with supporters, and strategic decisions made in the name of effective policy. The power of the so-called gun lobby has played an important role in hobbling the gun-control campaign, but that is not the entire story. Instead of pursuing a strategy of incremental change on the local and state levels, gun control advocates have sought national policies. Some 40% of state gun control laws predate the 1970s, and the gun lobby has systematically weakened even these longstanding restrictions.

A compelling and engagingly written look at one of America's most divisive political issues, Disarmed illuminates the organizational, historical, and policy-related factors that constrain mass mobilization, and brings into sharp relief the agonizing dilemmas faced by advocates of gun control and other issues in the United States.

Published by: Princeton University Press

Series: Princeton Studies in American Politics: Historical, International, and Comparative Perspectives

Series Info, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

List of Figures

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pp. ix-x

List of Tables

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

The trajectory of our lives is powerfully influenced by the people who show up at critical forks in the road. In the years that I worked on this project, these people were there: Nili Abrahamsson, Barbara Asnes, Stephanie Barys, Anthony Braga, Stuart Bratesman, Andrea Campbell, ...

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Chapter One: The Gun Control (Participation) Paradox

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pp. 1-30

On April 20, 1999, two alienated teenagers armed with an arsenal of semiautomatic firearms calmly made their way into their suburban Denver high school and began shooting indiscriminately. The young gunmen shot fellow students as they ate lunch on the school lawn, as they ran for cover in the school cafeteria, and as they crouched in terror in the school library. ...

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Chapter Two: A Movement in Theory

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pp. 31-72

Earlier, I made two broad claims: that social-movement theories are derived from a research approach that is flawed because it relies only on positive cases, and that the “movement” for gun control is not much of a movement at all. Here I connect those two insights by demonstrating that conventional social-movement theory cannot explain the nonmovement for gun control. ...

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Chapter Three: Socializing Costs: Patronage and Political Participation

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pp. 73-104

Just as public policies impose costs and confer benefits, so does political participation. However, to the individual or group considering political advocacy, the costs and benefits of participation are not everywhere and always equal. Some issues are inherently harder to organize around than are others. ...

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Chapter Four: Personalizing Benefits: Issue Frames and Political Participation

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pp. 105-144

I have argued that issue entrepreneurs seeking to build movements around public goods must find ways to socialize the costs of participation. But costs are only one side of the equation. To expand the scope of political conflict—to involve the audience, as E. E. Schattschneider put it2— issue entrepreneurs also must find ways to individualize the benefits of participation. ...

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Chapter Five: Changing the Calculation: Policy Incrementalism and Political Participation

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pp. 145-175

Socializing the costs of participation, and personalizing the benefits, are two ways by which issue advocates can expand political conflict to their advantage. This chapter considers a third mechanism: increasing the expected value of social benefits relative to the expected value of personal costs. ...

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Chapter Six: Mobilizing around Modest Measures: Three Cases

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pp. 176-189

For the first two decades or more of its organized life, the campaign for gun control was characterized by a smattering of small, resource-poor, and often short-lived associations of concerned citizens, a larger universe of national religious, civic, and labor groups willing to lend their moral support to the cause, and two or three advocacy organizations in Washington, D.C., ...

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Chapter Seven: Conclusion: Politics, Participation, and Public Goods

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pp. 190-200

The modern campaign for gun control began in the early 1960s, when the U.S. Senate’s Juvenile Delinquency subcommittee began assembling the case for tighter regulation of the domestic firearms market. Over the next four decades, as state and national interest groups were established to further the cause, and hundreds of gun control bills were introduced in Congress and state legislatures ...

Appendix A: Gun-Related Trends

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pp. 201-203

Appendix B: Brief Case Studies of Other Social-Reform Movements

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pp. 204-207

Appendix C: Survey of Million Mom March Participants

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pp. 208-214


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pp. 215-248


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pp. 249-270


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pp. 271-282

E-ISBN-13: 9781400837755
E-ISBN-10: 1400837758
Print-ISBN-13: 9780691138329
Print-ISBN-10: 069113832X

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: Course Book
Series Title: Princeton Studies in American Politics: Historical, International, and Comparative Perspectives