Why supporters of the 2nd Amendment need a third (or fourth) party ...
And what they have to do to get it
By Paul Hager, © 2001

I became a 2nd Amendment activist eight years ago - around the same time that I joined the Libertarian Party. The Libertarian Party's unflinching support for the right of self-defense was only one of the reasons I joined, but for the purposes of this discussion, the politics involving the right of self-defense is the only issue I will address.

I was a Libertarian candidate for federal office three times in my home state of Indiana - I'm currently seeking my party's nomination for Indiana Secretary of State next year. A "third party" candidate is the political equivalent of Rodney Dangerfield: you don't get any respect. This is especially frustrating when you get no respect from an organization that is supposed to be single-issue on the 2nd Amendment. I'm referring to the NRA, which steadfastly refuses to accept that the Libertarian Party is the only consistently pro-gun game in town

My experience running for U.S. Senate in 2000 is typical. The NRA rated incumbent Republican Dick Lugar - the fellow who supported the ban on so-called assault weapons and helped to resurrect the Gun-Free School Zone law after it was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Lopez case - a C, and didn't mention me at all. By its own standards, the NRA should have rated Lugar an F along with the Democrat and supported me, the only A-rated candidate. The NRA has done much worse than just ignoring candidates - it actively campaigned against Libertarian John Coon, who ran for U.S. Senate in Michigan a few years back, arguing that Coon would take strength from the Republican and elect the Democrat.

The Republican Party, to which the NRA has attached itself as a remora attaches itself to a shark, is at best indifferent in its defense of our 2nd Amendment rights. The Republicans always had more than 40 Senators when Congress was voting to restrict our rights over the past 20 years. I can promise you that had 41+ Senators been Libertarian, filibusters would have stopped every attempt to pass new "gun control" laws.

In fairness, the NRA is not behaving completely irrationally when it ignores (or even attacks) Libertarian candidates. If a Libertarian takes votes from a Republican who is not a complete gun grabber, which results in the election of a Democrat who is, the Libertarian is a spoiler. Therefore, so the logic runs, it is better to support the D-rated Republican who can win than vote for the A-rated Libertarian who can't and run the risk of electing the F-rated Democrat. For any single race, this logic is impeccable, but through successive iterations of C- and D-rated lesser evils, you eventually get the evil the F-rated Democrat would have given you in the first place.

Why does the Republican Party do such a lousy job of protecting our rights? For part of the answer, let's look at the method by which the Republicans (and Democrats) nominate their candidates. Primary races often involve 3 or more candidates. Suppose that 2 candidates of fairly equal strength are A-rated, and a third is C-rated. Let us further suppose that 60% of the voters favor one or the other of the A-rated candidates. The likely outcome is that supporters of the two A-rated candidates will end up splitting their votes. The result is that the C-rated candidate wins. If either of the A-rated candidates had gone against the C-rated candidate head-to-head, (s)he would have gotten 60% of the vote and won quite handily. The clear will of the majority is thwarted whenever strong candidates split the vote. Over time, as vote splitting continues to select non-representative nominees in disproportionate numbers, a political party will evolve away from its guiding principles.

Every time you go to the polls to cast a vote, and you have to choose among 3 or more candidates, you face an insoluble political dilemma. You're lucky if your only problem is deciding whether or not to compromise on principle and choose the lesser of two evils. When you are confronted with a split vote situation, there is really no hope at all.

The solution to the political dilemma I've described above is to abandon the voting system we've been using for our entire history and switch to a system called Approval Voting (AV). AV is childishly simple. Instead of only being able to vote for one candidate for a given office, you can vote for as many candidates as you like. All votes are tallied and the candidate with the most votes wins.

A simple change. A profound impact. To see this, let's return to the split vote scenario described above. With AV you can vote for both of the A-rated candidates in our hypothetical primary battle. It's quite possible that one A-rated candidate would get 60% of the vote and other 55%. The C-rated candidate would not improve above his minority support level of 40%, and would be defeated. Don't be confused by the fact that the numbers add up to 155%. Think of it this way: 60% of the voters approved of one of the A-rated candidates and 55% approved of the other. Only 40% approved of the C-rated candidate.

The lesser evils problem also resolves itself nicely with AV. If you really like the (always) A-rated Libertarian, then you vote for her/him. If you think the C-rated Republican might lose to the F-rated Democrat, then you can hedge by casting an additional approval vote for the Republican.

It is a mathematical certainty that AV will open up the marketplace of ideas to political entrepreneurs. With the current system of voting, split vote and lesser-of-two-evils operate to push the political system in the direction of only supplying binary choices. We call the result "the two party system". If we want to see new political parties evolve and prosper that are more responsive to our goals, the only way to get them is to adopt AV.

Some might argue that, despite the Libertarian Party's position on the 2nd Amendment, it is not "mainstream" enough to become a viable political force, even with AV. Without conceding this argument, consider the following. A centrist political party is formed that is totally uncompromising on 2nd Amendment rights. Let's call this mythical, staunchly pro-self-defense party the Aegis Party. With AV, similar parties can coexist without drawing strength away from each other. Thus, the NRA and other pro-gun organizations could funnel money and support to the Aegis Party knowing that it would be both an immediate contender and a hedge against Republican compromisers. Polling data show that a relatively small percentage of Americans is anti-gun. Only the single-issue anti-gunners would vote against an Aegis Party candidate in every case, which would be more than outweighed by the pro-gun vote. On other issues the Aegis Party would stake out positions similar to moderate Republicans and Democrats.

A caveat is that a free market in ideas is just as available to our political adversaries as it is to us. However, I'm confident that in a fair fight against the anti-gunners, we will win hands down. And, frankly, if we can't win in a fair fight, maybe we don't deserve to win.

I've talked about AV in my 3 previous campaigns for federal office but, since election laws are the province of the states, I was constrained from making election law reform a platform plank. The Secretary of State, however, actually administers the state election laws. Thus, a Secretary of State campaign is the ideal vehicle for discussing election reform and AV. Furthermore, if I am elected, I would necessarily have the kind of public support that would pressure the Indiana General Assembly to adopt AV.

Why should people outside Indiana concern themselves with its Secretary of State race? The answer is that reforming the voting system has to start at the state level and it has to start somewhere - in this case, Indiana. Once the public sees the benefits of AV, other states will move to adopt it. The coalition politics of the two party system that so often fails us is a product of our method of voting. Switch to AV, and we can find (or create) the right political party to end the slow bleeding away of our 2nd Amendment rights.

For more information about my campaign, and for sources about AV, visit my web page at www.hager2002.org.