Why Democrats relent on gun issues
They’ve allowed concealed-carry weapons in national parks, considered easing gun restrictions in the District of Columbia, and turned back a campaign pledge on gun-record transparency.
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Others voice similar views. “Why people fear the NRA is something we’re having an extremely hard time getting our hands around. Frankly, we’re baffled,” says Ladd Everitt, a spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence in Washington.Skip to next paragraph
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What President Clinton said
Historically, Democrats’ fears are based on the words of none other than President Clinton, who wrote in his autobiography that pro-gun-control stances cost Democrats the House in 1994 and the presidency in 2000. In that presidential election, Al Gore lost Tennessee, Arkansas, and West Virginia – states that could have made up for his eventual loss in Florida.
Critics say that this is a simplistic view and that the NRA was rebuffed on several fronts in those elections. “The gun lobby’s exaggerated ’94 triumph continues to haunt the nation’s capital, inflating the NRA’s clout and Democratic cowardice on gun violence," writes Dorothy Samuels in a recent New York Times “Editorial Observer” column.
But Democrats have largely taken Mr. Clinton at his word, and for good reason, many politicians argue. Mr. Gore’s campaign boss in West Virginia told the Cook Political Report that there were four reasons for his defeat: “Guns, guns, guns, and a robo-call machine that was incorrectly programmed to make calls at 3 a.m.”
But last year’s elections – which included victories in the Senate for pro-gun Democrats Mark Warner of Virginia and Kay Hagan of North Carolina – may hint at the cultural rather than political aspects of the gun debate. Indeed, views on guns do not separate neatly between Republicans and Democrats.
About 33 percent of liberal households own guns, compared with 47 percent of conservative households – a gap that doesn't make a big difference, says Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor who writes often about gun laws.
“It’s not at all surprising that even in a Democrat-controlled Congress, gun control would be blocked and gun rights proposals would be enacted, because it’s not just a Democrat and Republican issue,” but a cultural one, Mr. Volokh says.
Last year's Supreme Court decision
What’s more, both political and public mind-sets were jarred by last year’s Heller decision at the Supreme Court, which confirmed for the first time since 1791 the right of individuals to own and bear arms. That affirmation created a sea change in the body politic, says Robert Levy, a senior fellow and chairman at the Cato Institute in Washington and a co-counsel in the Heller case.