Will Democrats finally step up on gun control?
A little history might be in order to explain why they’ve been missing in action for the last decade or so. And, as with most questions relating to the party’s defects, you can trace the origins of this one back to the presidential election in 2000.
Most people remember Florida as the state that killed Al Gore’s dreams of sitting in the Oval Office, but, as Alec MacGillis points out in the New Republic, Gore would have defeated George W. Bush without Florida if he had only managed to carry Tennessee (his home state) or West Virginia, which traditionally had favored Democratic presidential candidates.
Democrats blamed Gore’s losses in those states on his support for gun control and subsequently left the field to the N.R.A. and to other proponents of unfettered firearm proliferation. In 2004, John Kerry criticized President Bush for allowing the assault weapons ban to expire. Gun control advocates weren’t terribly pleased, however, when Kerry went out of his way to pose as a rifle-toting outdoorsman. They were even more distressed several years later, when President Obama dropped the issue of renewing the assault-rifle ban, even though he supported it during the 2008 campaign.
Early in the President’s first term, Attorney General Eric Holder expressed interest in reinstating the ban on assault weapons. For his trouble, Holder got a tongue-lashing from the famously foul-mouthed Rahm Emanuel, then White House chief of staff. According to Daniel Klaidman’s book, “Kill or Capture,” Emanuel told the nation’s top law enforcement official to “shut the f*ck up” about guns. The response wasn’t much better on Capitol Hill, where a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (who voted against the original assault weapons ban in 1994) said the senator would oppose any effort to revive the ban.
Since then, President Obama has expanded gun rights, signing a law that allows concealed guns to be carried in national parks and in checked baggage on board Amtrak trains. In 2010, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence graded the President’s leadership on gun control an “F.” A bad grade, to be sure, but hardly a surprising one given the record.