This series, by BANR founder, Ted Wachtel, applies the concept of citizens’ assemblies to an urgent need that the U.S. Congress avoids — gun violence and how to prevent it. Wachtel identifies the reasons legislators can’t do it and why a diverse group of citizens can. No longer theoretical, in the last few years citizens’ assemblies have been used around the world to make thoughtful decisions about challenging and often controversial problems.
8. Citizens need to have their own conversation.
Thwarting the Majority
Though most Americans blame gun violence on easy access to firearms, the last time the U.S. government approved legislation to limit the use and spread of guns was 25 years ago, in 1994.
Polls reveal that the vast majority of Americans want universal background checks and “red flag” laws to keep firearms from high risk individuals, but the National Rifle Association and its four million members have thwarted any further federal restrictions on gun ownership.
No other issue more clearly highlights the impotence of the American political system, which allows a small minority of voters to consistently obstruct the will of a vast majority.
Being Our Own Heroes
Citizens’ assemblies constitute a revolution in governance…but no bullets, no blood. It’s a revolution by conversation.
The growing use of citizens’ assemblies around the world reduces the power of partisan politicians, and increases the thoughtful and collaborative influence of the citizenry.
We can change the world. We need not wait for anyone’s permission.
Instead, we can demand that every candidate for President, Senate and House of Representatives sign a True Representation Pledge. In signing the Pledge, each candidate promises to voluntarily delegate his authority by funding and following the recommendations of a U.S. National Citizens’ Assembly on Gun Violence.
In 1903, the Anti-Saloon League decided to oppose 70 Ohio legislators who resisted the prohibition of alcoholic beverages…and defeated every one of them. Because elections are usually close, the League won each election with only a small number of disciplined, single-issue voters who were committed to voting against any politician who opposed prohibition.
The League used that strategy over and over across the nation, to force Americans to give up their booze and close down the nation’s fifth biggest industry.
Those of us who want a National Citizen’s Assembly on Gun Violence, with a similar group of disciplined, single-issue voters, can decide any close election in favor of candidates who agree to the True Representation Pledge.
True Representation Petition
And so, the Building A New Reality movement proposes taking action in concert with others. We would first launch a petition signature drive in support of a U.S. National Citizens’ Assembly on Gun Violence. As the number of names on the petition grows, our efforts will become more credible. If candidates agree to support us, they can use our True Representation logo on their campaign literature and websites, signaling where they stand on the gun violence issue.
A successful True Representation effort will pave the way for future citizens’ assemblies, to deal with other controversial issues that politicians are afraid to tackle.
This is a pragmatic first step. We’re not proposing a permanent change in government. Rather, we want to give people a chance to see how sortition and participatory decision-making can work in practice.
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