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Hahrie Han on Gun-Control vs. Gun-Rights Groups

July 17th, 2018

There’s a palpable difference between a tight-knit community and a loose group of people with a shared interest.

This article in the NY Times by Hahrie Han illustrates this contrast. Hahrie, a gun-control advocate who studies grassroots movements compares the traits of gun-control groups with gun-rights groups.

“…recognize the difference between organizations that can activate only people who are in agreement and those that can transform people who are not.”

Gun-control groups attempt to mobilize loosely affiliated advocates while gun-rights groups are built on a stronger foundation of relationships, responsibility, and places to gather in-person.

Gun-rights groups don’t need to start with ideology. They can cultivate it through a sense of community. Han writes:

“There are more gun clubs and gun shops in the United States than there are McDonald’s… My friends who support the N.R.A. did not join a club because of politics. They joined because they wanted somewhere to shoot their guns.”

She also talks about how those who protest outside abortion clinics subscribed to their cause. Relationships shape our views.

“Most people assume that people who join groups like the N.R.A. are people who support gun rights — but that is not always the case.

Consider the anti-abortion movement. The sociologist Ziad Munson has found that almost half of the activists on the front lines of the anti-abortion movement — those who protest outside abortion clinics — were not anti-abortion when they attended their first event. They attended because a friend asked them, they had just joined a new church, or they retired and had more free time.

They stayed, however, because at these events, they found things we all want: friends, responsibility, a sense that what they are doing matters. By finding fellowship and responsibility, these people changed not only their views on abortion but also their commitment to act.”

And how gun-control organizations often don’t nurture leadership and identity in the same way:

“When I joined gun-control groups, I got messages about narrowly defined issues like background checks and safety locks… But none introduced me to anyone else in the organization or invited me to strategize about what I could do. Instead, I felt like a prop in a game under their control.”


“Building a movement will require organizations to invest in the leadership of ordinary people by equipping them with the motivations, skills and autonomy they need to act. Most organizations never give people that opportunity.”