12. Public Safety

Begin in agreement, for example: The most basic job of our city/county/state is to keep you safe from crime.

Our values: Security, safety, protection, justice

Our vision: The most fundamental job of government is to protect its citizens from crime. Progressive government focuses on strategies that make us safer and serious felonies deserve serious punishment. But there is a great deal that can be done to prevent crime while also ensuring justice: (1) reform police procedures, including interrogations and use of force, that lead authorities toward the wrong suspects; (2) reform judicial procedures that hurt the innocent, thereby helping the guilty; (3) reform prison procedures that increase recidivism; and (4) reform criminal laws to prevent the commission of crimes.


When you’re talking about crime, you must tell voters how your policies will make them safer, not how they benefit the perpetrator or suspect.

Don’t say . . . Say . . .
Rights (of criminals) Security, safety, protection

Responsibility

Justice

Why . . .

Do not begin a discussion of crime with the ideas of fairness or equal opportunity. Persuadable voters want to know how your criminal justice policies will protect them. It shouldn’t be hard to explain since that’s what all good progressive criminal justice policies accomplish—they prevent crime, reduce recidivism and improve the quality of life for everyone in the community.

Conversely, right wing policies—like giving long prison sentences to nonviolent drug offenders—take hundreds of millions of dollars away from strategies that more effectively fight drug abuse and prevent crime.

Say . . .
It’s a fundamental job of government to protect you from crime, to make law-abiding people safer. For dangerous felons, lock ’em up for a long time. But for nonviolent and young offenders, we need to do everything we can to divert them away from a life of crime. For example, nonviolent drug offenders sentenced to treatment facilities instead of regular prisons are far less likely to commit future crimes. That’s the goal, to make all of us safer and more secure.

Why . . .

Everyone wants safer communities. But what if the progressive policy is specifically about the rights of the accused? For example, policies to require electronic recording of interrogations, reform police procedures for lineups, and create commissions to research whether imprisoned people are actually innocent.

Emphasize that for every wrongly convicted person there is an actual perpetrator who has escaped justice and remains a threat to our public safety. Don’t blame the police, but suggest that there are more modern practices that have been proven to work better than current police procedures. Say that we owe it to the victim, as well as the whole community, to find and punish the real criminal. For example:

Say . . .
The whole point of this legislation is to protect you from crime. A lot of other jurisdictions get better evidence from suspects and witnesses by requiring that all police questioning be electronically recorded. It protects the innocent and makes it easier to convict the guilty. Technology has changed rapidly and we should take advantage of it.

Gun Violence

Persuadable Americans know almost nothing about gun laws and have no idea how easy it is for dangerous people to buy firearms. When asked about gun policies, they overwhelmingly support background checks and other modest gun laws. (Many think such policies have always been the law.)

Pro-gun advocates know that they lose the argument on the merits, so their tactic is to sidetrack the discussion. Prepare to spend most of your time trying to steer the conversation back to the specific proposal at hand.

Don’t say . . . Say . . .
Gun control

Stricter gun laws

You oppose the 2nd Amendment

Prevent gun violence

Stronger gun laws

Support for the 2nd Amendment goes hand-in-hand with keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people

Why . . .

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has done an effective job of making people associate the words gun control or even stricter laws with confiscating guns or banning handguns entirely. Of course, no one is proposing that. You need to make it clear that you are advocating for what voters perceive as a moderate position. Like them, you support the 2nd Amendment. Like them, you don’t have a problem with NRA members in your community. (If the situation requires you to attack the NRA, then condemn NRA lobbyists or the NRA’s out-of-touch leaders. Never attack average NRA members or local NRA leaders; that doesn’t work.)

To introduce your argument, start with the fundamentals:

Say . . .
We need to do everything we can to keep our community safe and secure from violence. But every day, far too many of us are victims of gun violence. Dozens of Americans will be murdered, hundreds of others will be shot, and about one thousand will be robbed or assaulted with a gun…today. (If you can, tell a personal story here.)

Why . . .

Don’t skip the universally shared values we are fighting for: safety and security. And then, don’t ignore the fundamental facts that motivate us: there are more than 10,000 gun murders, 100,000 people shot, and 400,000 Americans robbed or assaulted with firearms, every single year. Let people recognize that every day, wherever we go in America, we are all at risk of gun violence. And then:

Say . . .
It is obvious why so many people are killed or victimized with guns, day after day: we have some of the weakest gun laws in the world. To make us, our families and our communities safer, we need to change a few of those laws…now.

Why . . .

Don’t assume people understand why we need new laws. Link the problem to the solution. If you’re arguing for background checks for all gun sales, this is your basic argument:

Say . . .
Our community can’t be safe if we allow guns to be sold to felons or the dangerously mentally ill. That’s why current law requires that no gun can be sold by a licensed gun dealer without a criminal background check. But millions of guns are sold by unlicensed sellers at gun shows and through Internet sites with no background check. We need a simple change in the law in order to cover all gun sales. The few minutes it takes to complete a computerized check will save lives. It’s just common sense.

Why . . .

Since 1968, federal law has banned the possession of firearms by convicted felons, domestic abusers and people who are dangerously mentally ill. The Brady Law, enacted in 1993, requires a criminal background check before any licensed dealer can sell any firearm. (Some states require more.) A National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) for gun purchases, operated by the FBI, began in 1998. Poll after poll shows that Americans overwhelmingly support background checks for all gun sales.

The only direct argument against background checks by the pro-gun lobby is that criminals will get guns anyway.

Say . . .
The federal background check law has blocked millions of illegal gun sales. It works. The problem is that the law doesn’t apply to private sales, so felons can currently avoid a background check and get any kind of gun, no questions asked. It’s time to close the private sales loophole.

Why . . .

Nobody suggests this law will stop all criminals. To be successful, it doesn’t have to. No law stops all crime. It’s simply common sense to block as many illegal sales as possible. All the other arguments raised in this debate are designed to change the subject. Here are some examples:

Right wing argument: The Second Amendment forbids the proposed gun law.

Say . . .
I support the 2nd Amendment. In fact, the Supreme Court ruled, just a few years ago, that reasonable gun laws are constitutional, and since then, other federal and state courts have consistently held that a rule on guns like the one we’re talking about does not violate the 2nd Amendment. Let’s return to the real issue. It is just plain common sense to require background checks for all gun purchases.

Why . . .

The 2008 Supreme Court opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller guarantees Americans the right to have a handgun in the home for self-protection. The Court also said: “[N]othing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” And that ruling explicitly reaffirmed the Supreme Court’s 1939 U.S. v. Miller opinion that upheld a law banning sawed-off shotguns (the same law bans machine guns, silencers and grenades) and stated that policymakers have the power to prohibit “dangerous and unusual weapons.”

Right wing argument: The assault weapon law wouldn’t have stopped the Newtown massacre, or other claims that a particular gun law wouldn’t have prevented a particular crime.

Say . . .
The goal of public safety legislation is to protect citizens, but no law is 100 percent effective. The law against murder doesn’t stop all murders. The law that lowered the blood alcohol level for driving didn’t stop all drunk driving. This policy will not stop every gun crime, but it will save some lives. Let’s talk about that.

Right wing argument: This law will give the federal government the data to create a gun registration list, and that’ll lead to us getting our guns taken away.

Say . . .
The goal of this legislation is to protect citizens, and it will do that. There is nothing in the background check proposal that creates a registry. In fact, existing law forbids the federal government from establishing a gun registration list. Let’s return to the real issue. This legislation would require background checks for all gun purchases and that’s just simple common sense.

Right wing argument: We should provide armed guards/do something about mental health/make parents take responsibility/ban violent video games instead.

Say . . .
We should make our communities safer. If you’ve got a good proposal, that’s fine. But this is not an either-or debate; one policy does not exclude another. Can we get back to the legislation on the table: why should we sell these guns to any adult, without any background check, no questions asked?

Right wing argument: The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

Say . . .
We want a public policy that makes our communities safer. Unfortunately, your “good guy with a gun” story doesn’t work in real life. Columbine High School had an armed deputy sheriff. Virginia Tech had an entire police force, including a SWAT team. At the Tucson shooting, not only was there an armed civilian who failed to stop the shooter, but he almost shot one of the brave unarmed people who tackled and disarmed the shooter. The Fort Hood massacre happened at a military base filled with soldiers. President Reagan and his press secretary Jim Brady were surrounded by armed police and Secret Service, and yet both were shot. Let’s get back to the real debate over this legislation.

 

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