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.