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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

How Dem Candidates Should Support Gun Control

DLC President Bruce Reed takes on the conventional wisdom that gun control is a ‘third rail’ for Democrats in his Slate article “It Takes a Bubba: Tougher gun laws are better politics than you think.” He argues that the key to successful advocacy of gun control is linking it to crime control, noting in two nut graphs,

The political case for not running for cover on guns is equally straightforward. Unlike most politicians, voters are not ideological about crime. They don’t care what it takes, they just want it to go down. The Brady Bill and the clip ban passed because the most influential gun owners in America—police officers and sheriffs—were tired of being outgunned by drug lords, madmen, and thugs.
When Democrats ignore the gun issue, they think about the political bullet they’re dodging but not about the opportunity they’ll miss. In the 1980s, Republicans talked tough on crime and ran ads about Willie Horton but sat on their hands while the crime rate went up. When Bill Clinton promised to try everything to fight crime—with more police officers on the street, and fewer guns—police organizations dropped their support for the GOP and stood behind him instead.

Reed also thinks Dem strategists have misinterpreted the effect of support for gun control in the 2000 general election:

The current political calculus is that guns cost Gore the 2000 election by denying him West Virginia and his home state of Tennessee. This argument might be more convincing if Gore hadn’t essentially carried the gun-mad state of Florida. In some states, the gun issue made it more difficult for Gore to bridge the cultural divide but hardly caused it. Four years ago, Gore and Clinton carried those same states with the same position on guns and the memory of the assault-weapons ban much fresher in voters’ minds.

There’s more to discuss about Reed’s article, and his argument ought to generate some buzz in Democratic circles. After all, lives are very much at stake here, and Democratic inaction in response to the Virginia Tech massacre would compound the tragedy and reflect poorly on our leadership.

4 comments on “How Dem Candidates Should Support Gun Control

  1. Jason Gillespie on

    I am a Virginia Tech Hokie, and also a proud Democrat. While I lived in Blacksburg, I worked with any of the local elected Democrats. Sad to say, not all of them at the time felt a need to support better gun laws. In fact, one boasted of their endorsements from the NRA.
    While I do not want anyone politicizing the tragedy my school and my fellow Hokies have suffered, there are certainly efforts that can be done, much as Gov. Kaine(D) did when he issues the executive order preventing mental patients from obtaining weapons. Every state should have similar laws on the books. It is not much, but if we cannot do even that, we should be ashamed of ourselves.
    Ut Prosim

  2. Jim Kessler on

    At Americans for Gun Safety (the forerunner of Third Way), we conducted a lot of in-depth research on guns. We wanted to understand how an issue like closing the gun show loophole, which polled 88-9% in SOUTH DAKOTA (!!!!), was universally thought to be bad for politicians.
    Here were our conclusions: A lot of voters supported gun safety laws but were unconvinced that they would make a difference in reducing crime.
    Many voters felt that when politicians talked about gun safety, they were talking about someone else’s concerns – not their own.
    And last, Democrats had real baggage on the gun issue. People thought Democrats were hostile to gun owners and didn’t respect the values that gun owners held.
    We counseled Democrats to solve these problems by both pairing the right to own a gun with the responsibility to pass laws that kept them out of the wrong hands. We told Democrats to wrap gun safety proposals around local values (“I’m bringing West Virginia gun values to Washington.”). And finally, we told them to win the crime argument and enlist local chiefs and sheriffs in the fight.
    Gun safety isn’t bad politics when it is handled correctly. When it is handled poorly, politicians run from the issue like a stampede. We then see the results in the lives that are lost around the nation.
    Jim Kessler.

  3. Bill Schultz on

    I doubt that the number of “GUN TOTIN’ MANIACS” out there actually have enough voting power to stop real legislation on gun control. The NRA does. The Emphasis needs to move onto and into the NRA and its’ influence on the US Congress.
    Many of us are well aware of this situation, but I believe that millions still see the NRA as that farmer friendly group of good ole boys that hold gun classes for young hunters, not the lobbyists for Remington Firearms and Colt Mfg. Start putting the truth out there on TV and across the internet… Gun Control starts with NRA CONTROL!!!

  4. David on

    I think Bruce Reed makes a good point. Most people who want to maintain their right to have guns are not thinking a “criminal” should have the same right.
    For some time Democrats have not taken advantage of this dichotomy.
    However, I do wonder if there is a need to institute harsher penalties for illegal possession of guns along with tougher gun laws.
    Just making it tougher to get a gun may not deter some criminals who will just buy them off the street.
    Plus, some voters will perceive of laws making it tougher to get guns less than useful if not supported by measures to really make criminals pay for possessing and using guns.


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