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Wed Nov 30, 2016, 05:59 PM

History doesn't repeat, but it often rhymes; lessons from 2004 re: the gun issue. [View all]

Here's a crosspost to DU from January 2005 that I wrote in late 2004 on the John Kerry Forum (later Common Ground Common Sense), after Kerry was hurt badly in several key swing states by the gun issue, just as Gore was in '00 and Clinton in '16.

Dems and the Gun Issue - Now What? (2004)

A lot of JK forum members at the time simply couldn't understand why his talking up hunting and "huntin' guns" didn't defuse the issue, hence the post. Some minor details of the landscape have shifted in the last 12 years, it wasn't very polished, and my gun collection has changed a bit, but the key points still stand, I think. And I'll point out that a pro-gun, formerly-NRA-endorsed Dem (Cooper) appears to have won the governorship of NC this year, even as the exact same voters soundly rejected Clinton.

I can't get to this post from around the same time frame from DU's Virginiamountainman (the old DU archives appear to be down), but he hit some of the same themes. It was entitled "Alienated Rural Democrat", and discussed how the gun issue drove lifelong Dems in his state of WV out of the party, including his own family.

I watched how the gun issue affected the races in '94, '96 (Congressional), '98, '00, '02, and '04. The party started listening and mostly dropped the issue by '06, and Obama largely defused the gun issue in '08 by saying he couldn't ban "assault weapons" even if he wanted to, and implied he didn't. But the Third Way yanked the DNC back to gun bans with a vengeance after 2012, and history repeats.

So, I'll say it One. More. Time. Stop trying to ban people's guns and magazines. Just stop. And before you say "I only want to ban X", just keep in mind that X is most likely just a buzzword for a large subset of "people's guns and magazines."

Please just stop it, dammit.

Dems and the Gun Issue--Now What?
Posted by benEzra in Guns
Wed Jan 05th 2005, 11:33 AM


Some of you may know me as a regular on the Common Ground Common Sense forum, formerly the JK forum. Shortly after the election, I pulled a lot of thoughts together into one document about how the party might stop alienating gun owners so badly. Please read it with an open mind, and post any feedback you'd like. For those of you who hate guns, it may at least help you understand where gun owners like my wife and I are coming from. Thanks!


Democrats and the gun issue: Now what?

First, let me say that I'm a gun owner. Second, I don't hunt.

To some of you, that automatically makes me wierd. After all, aren't most gun owners hunters? Isn't hunting the main reason law-abiding Americans own guns? And aren't hunting guns what most American gun owners are so protective of?

Well--no. And it's this misunderstanding may have just cost the Democratic party another national election. But please hear me out.

After the 2000 election, when Al Gore lost his home state of Tennessee and pro-union West Virginia--and consequently the White House--over the gun issue, the gun-control group Americans for Gun Safety counseled Democrats that if the party made its support for hunting and hunters vocal enough, and got that message out, then the gun issue would cease to be the black hole sucking votes away from Democrats. The party could push “moderate” gun control such as banning nonhunting guns, and gun owners would feel assured that their gun rights were going to be restricted.

It didn't work out that way this year; the gun issue was still a major factor in this election. Pro-gun Democrats tended to win in pro-gun states, but Democrats who had supported bans on nonhunting guns tended to lose. Here in North Carolina, Democrat Mike Easley (who opposes more gun control and is rated "A" by the NRA) easily won reelection, but nationally known Democrat Erskine Bowles (an ardent supporter of the "assault weapons ban" lost his Senate race to no-name Republican Richard Burr. And many of the same voters who elected our Democratic governor voted against the Democratic presidential ticket. Why?

The leading Democrat in the Senate, Tom Daschle, was hammered at the polls by gun owners and lost to a relative unknown, despite commercial after commercial showing Daschle hunting with a shotgun. Why?

Ohio, where the Presidency was lost, went heavily for Senator Kerry in urban areas, but rural gun owners went heavily for Bush, despite the senator's heavy emphasis on his support for hunting. Why?

The answer is very simple--so simple, in fact, that it’s puzzling why the party has missed it for so long. Let's look at the numbers. It is estimated that there are estimated to between 65 and 80 million gun owners in the United States. There are between 13 and 16 million licensed hunters in the United States. Now do some math. Four out of five gun owners are not hunters. I repeat: 80% of gun owners are not hunters.

So why is the national party trying so hard to recast the protections of the Second Amendment as applying only to hunting firearms, if 80% of gun owners don't hunt and hunting has absolutely nothing to do with 2nd-Amendment jurisprudence? Or to turn the question around--why did party leaders think that demonstrating support for hunters would allow the party to go after nonhunting guns with impunity? Four out of five gunnies don't hunt; is it any wonder that a pro-hunting message didn't win the bloc?

The party platform-writers can talk all they want about supporting the Second Amendment, but if we nonhunters lose the right to choose to own nonhunting-style guns, we have lost our Second-Amendment rights. Period. As a nonhunter, I personally don't care if I am "allowed" to own a skeet shotgun or a slug gun suitable for deer; I want to keep my modern-looking small-caliber self-loader, thanks. I'm a Gen X'er, that's what I grew up thinking was cool, and that's what I as a law-abiding American citizen choose to own. And my wife would just as soon keep her 15-round defensive handgun. And apparently, a lot of gun owners feel the same way I do.

Don't get me wrong. I fully support hunters and the right to hunt-- indeed, the excise taxes my wife and I and millions of others pay on our nonhunting guns and ammunition helps fund the game lands that hunters enjoy. But I wish the Democratic party would practice a bit more tolerance for us law-abiding gun owners who don't fit its narrow ivory-tower stereotype of "acceptable" gun ownership.

In the last two presidential elections, the party has consciously tried to split hunters and wingshooters away from nonhunting gun owners; "we'll go after the hunting vote," goes the logic, "and leave owners of other styles of firearms to the Republicans." But that's bad math, since 80% of gun owners don't hunt, and of the 20% that do, many probably own nonhunting firearms too. And trying hard to win a small percentage of a voting bloc while driving the majority of that bloc---and its most committed and motivated advocates---to your opponent is not the way to win a voting bloc.

The prohibitionists have taken the Democratic party for a ride--straight down. Since September 1994, when prominent Democrats led the charge to ban practically all firearms holding over 10 rounds, restricted civilian long guns based on silly distinctions such as what their handgrips look like, and threw the whole weight of the party's prestige and resources behind the movement to ban nonhunting firearms, the Democrats' once-rising star has plummeted. Backing prohibition of nonhunting guns cost the party control of the House in 1994, cost the party control of the Senate, and has now arguably cost a SECOND hard-fought presidential election. Yet the party's response may once again be to try to repackage its support for additional gun prohibition in yet more "hunter-friendly" rhetoric. Perhaps hunters were taken in by NRA rhetoric, party leaders may think yet again. Perhaps hunters didn't get the message that we support hunting, that we support conservation. Perhaps we need yet more photo-ops in hunting gear, more photo-ops at skeet shoots. But perhaps there's a simpler reason that the party's obvious support for hunting didn't defuse the gun issue. Maybe its because most gun owners don't hunt.

Some leading Democratics still don't get it. Democratic strategist Steve Murphy, listing the things that Democrats should absolutely NOT do in order to stop driving away swing voters, stated emphatically that the party should not abandon the push for additional "moderate" gun control, a position echoed by authoritarians at the Democratic Leadership Council. Unfortunately, what urban ivory-tower strategists consider "moderate"---outlawing various nonhunting-style firearms---is considered "extremist" to a lot of us gun owners. But to these strategists, gun control seems to be the Holy Grail--the party can ditch anything else in its platform, it can lose every presidential election, it can continue its slide in Congress, but it must continue to push for more and more restrictions on the rights of nonhunting gun owners.

What if the Republicans tried something like this? Imagine, if you will, the Republican party trying to woo swing voters by pushing to ban all alcoholic beverages over 10% alcohol content, banning beer and wine based on the shape of the bottle they come in (since beverages in tall, dark-colored bottles "have no nutritional purpose", demonizing wine drinkers as "extremists," and portraying champagne as "the beverage of choice of rapists and drunk drivers"? Although this might appeal to some conservative Baptist teetotolers, who are probably going to vote Republican anyway, do you think this might POSSIBLY hurt the Republican party among the 50% or so of Americans who regularly partake of alcoholic beverages? That would be a really foolish move politically, wouldn't it? Now what if the Repubs didn’t just try this once, but over and over and over and over, losing election after election on the issue but thinking “it’s sure to work next time"?

But that's exactly what the national Democratic party is doing with the gun issue, isn't it? Trying to curry favor with gun-404 urbanites living in states with draconian gun laws, by advocating nationwide restrictions on whatever the gun-prohibitionist lobby tags with a scary name? Labeling people who own nontraditional-looking firearms as “extremists” and “terrorists”? And after every lost election, blaming it on bad talking points and thinking “it’s sure to work next time”? See the problem?

So what can the Democratic party do to defuse this issue? Here's some ideas.

Confront stereotypes. When I say I'm a gun owner, what image of me comes to your mind? A middle-aged white male who talks with a Southern drawl, drives a pickup truck, chews tobacco, likes beer, and owns lots of camoflage clothing? Or do you think of a thirtysomething college-educated guitar-playing, poetry-reading physics geek with glasses and a goatee, who drives a Toyota Camry and is dad to a special-needs kid? Because I'm the latter. I recently worked with a gun owner who happens to be a thirtysomething college-educated black female from New York state who often drives a Lexus to work. And I am married to a gun owner from Cambridge, Massachusetts who grew up in Maine, has a B.A. in English, and studies medieval history for fun.

But let's probe our prejudices a bit further. What if I tell you my most cherished rifle is a SAR-1, a civilian rifle that looks (but does NOT function) like an AK-47? Is your first response to view me as an incipient wacko, full of paranoia about "black helicopters" and "the gubmint"? If so, why? Because all the "AK" owners you've met are like that, or because the media told you to view me like that?

Stop confusing law-abiding gun owners with criminals. Gun crime is a problem. But being tough on law-abiding gun owners is not the same as being tough on crime. It is vital to make that distinction. Any gun is dangerous in the hands of a violent criminal. America's law-abiding gun owners are NOT the problem, and whether we own hunting or nonhunting firearms has nothing to do with it.

As it stands in 2005, the gun control issue isn't about your common street criminal. Criminals are already prohibited from owning a gun. The people whom Feinstein and Schumer and the DLC are fighting to place new gun-ownership-restrictions on are people like my wife and I, who have never had so much as a speeding ticket. Calls for more and more restriction on gun ownership are aimed squarely at us.

Get educated on gun issues.
Democratic politicians should take a closer look at the technical issues involved in gun legislation before jumping on the prohibitionist bandwagon du jour. If an anti-car activist advocated banning Honda Civics with 18" wheels, rear wings, levitation lights, and windshield-washer LED's because they are "race cars" that can "outrun police" and "have no legitimate transportation purpose," do you think the average senator or congressperson would fall for it? No, because they are all familiar enough with cars to know that glow lights and chrome wheels don't make a car go any faster, even if it makes it look faster. But when an anti-gun activist claims that thumbhole target stocks, vertical handgrips, threaded muzzles, or rugged looks make a rifle an "assault weapon" that "out-guns police" and "has no legitimate purpose," many legislators fall for it, because they aren't really all that familiar with guns or gun law. That needs to change.

Whenever a Democrat urges a ban on "weapons of war like AK-47's and Uzi's," he or she looks dishonest to gun enthusiasts familiar with the law, because military AK-47's and Uzi's are already tightly restricted by Federal law, the National Firearms Act of 1934---which, after all, has only been on the books for SEVENTY YEARS. Oh, the prohibitionists didn't tell you that the legislation they gave you didn't ban any military weapons, did they? Just civilian nonhunting firearms like my wife's 15-round Glock handgun. It astounds me that more than ten years after the 1994 "assault weapons ban" was passed, many politicians and respected media organizations were still reporting that the ban covered "automatic weapons" or "weapons of war" or "machine guns." When all anyone had to do was go to the BATFE web site and read the Federal Firearms Law FAQ to find that this was 100% wrong.

When leading Democrats seek to ban any ammunition capable of piercing body armor--which practically ANY centerfire rifle caliber will do--why are they surprised when rifle owners feel threatened? (Yes, even grandpa's old .30-30 Winchester deer rifle will drill through level II or IIIA body armor like it's not there.) Oh, the prohibitionists didn't tell you that Kevlar body armor is only designed to stop handgun rounds, did they? But ten minutes' research would have revealed that--if any Democratic strategist had bothered to check.

I could go on. About the myth that a nontraditional-looking 9mm handgun like a civilian Uzi lookalike will “blow a deer to smithereens,” even though it is only one-seventh as powerful as an ordinary .30-06 hunting rifle. Or the canard that rifles with vertical handgrips are “designed to be spray-fired indiscriminately from the hip,” even though a vertical handgrip is more ergonomic than a conventional grip for shooting from the shoulder based on simple human forearm anatomy. Or the claim that the .223 Remington is an ultra-powered super-bullet too powerful for civilians to own, even though it’s the least powerful of all common centerfire rifle cartridges. Or that my SAR-1 is a “weapon of mass destruction” that can “penetrate police body armor from a thousand yards away.” Yeah, right. And my Toyota Camry goes 200 miles per hour and gets 150 mpg. Wanna buy the Brooklyn Bridge?

Maybe Democratic politicians should hire a few pro-gun staffers (not just pro-hunting, but pro-gun in the broader sense) to try to expose these embarassing details before introducing wrongheaded legislation or issuing inane press releases. And maybe the party should view prohibitionist talking points about "assault weapons" and "cop-killer bullets" and "sniper rifles" and "pocket rockets" with the same skepticism they currently reserve for NRA pronouncements.

Pro-gun Democrats--and gun-ambivalent Democrats who don't see the point in alienating tens of millions of voters for no good reason--need to take back the party from the prohibitionists. People like Senator Charles Schumer, who thinks the shape of a rifle's stock affects its lethality, or that a puny 9mm Luger is too powerful/lethal for "civilians" to own (but is OK with "civilians" owning .338 Lapua magnums and 12-gauge shotguns), have absolutely no business setting the party's gun policy.

Don't try to gauge public opinion from "push polls." Perhaps one reason the party was sucked into banning over-10-round- and nontraditional-looking guns in the first place were all the polls claiming that 70% or more Americans favor banning them. But such figures typically come from push polls that misrepresent what the ban actually covers (i.e, "Do you favor outlawing rapid-fire military-style assault weapons that out-gun police and are designed to quickly kill large numbers of people in a very short time," blah blah blah). If instead you ask, "Should all firearms that hold over 10 rounds, like the handguns police carry, be outlawed for civilian use?" you might get a somewhat different response, no?

Remember that nonhunters have gun rights, too. Standing up for hunters is great, and should be applauded. But hunters are only a small fraction of law-abiding gun owners. Don't forget that the rest of us have rights, too.

"Moderate" gun control is already on the books.
Prohibitionists consider banning various classes of nonhunting style firearms as "moderate" gun control. To those of us in flyover country, that's not "moderate." It's extreme.

"Moderate" gun control is restricting automatic weapons, firearms over .50 caliber, cut-down firearms, and explosives; requiring background checks for purchases from any gun dealer, even at a gun show; prohibiting a criminal or anyone adjudicated mentally incompetent from touching a gun; requiring background checks and licensing in order to carry a firearm; strictly regulating when a gun can be drawn and/or used in self-defense; restrictions on armor-piercing handgun ammunition and hypothetical "plastic guns" that could evade metal detectors, and so on. All of the above laws are already on the books.

The line of demarcation between civilian and non-civilian firearms was drawn seventy years ago, by the National Firearms Act of 1934. The gun-control advocates really crossed the line when they shattered that compromise in 1994 and tried to outlaw guns that have been deemed suitable for law-abiding civilians to own for 70 to 130 years. In so doing, they stepped all over the rights of the law-abiding while doing little or nothing about the real criminals. And it motivated gun enthusiasts like me into political activism like no gun-related issue has before or since.

I'm not asking for loosening restrictions. I'm just saying that the huge array of restrictions already on the books is enough; continuing to pile more and more restrictions on the heads of law-abiding gun owners (like saying I can't own a certain rifle because of the way the stock is shaped) is wrongheaded and doesn't address gun misuse at all.

Leave it to the states. Advocating "moderate" gun control may play fairly well in places like Southern California, Massachusetts, New York City, Chicago, and D.C . But what the prohibitionists consider "moderate" can be politically disastrous in pro-gun states like Tennessee, Texas, Florida, Nevada, and West Virginia.

If it is so important for gun-404 residents of NYC or Boston or Chicago or San Francisco (where legal ownership of ALL types of guns is rather difficult) to have a ban on low-powered-but-scary-looking guns to make them feel better, let them work for a LOCAL ban, or at worst a state ban (which is already law in Massachusetts, California, and a few other gun-phobic states) instead of trying to shove a national ban down the throats of people in other states who not only don't want one, but who will politically mobilize and fight tooth and nail to defeat any national candidate that calls for one. That is one key lesson the Democratic party needs to learn from the 2004 election.

So why not just leave it to the states? If the people of California want to make owning a rifle with a black plastic stock a felony, they can. If the people of North Carolina wish to own 15-round handguns, they can. And the issue ceases to be the albatross around the national party's neck.

Many Democrats complain about the NRA's influence in national elections. But if the national Democratic leadership would simply drop the crusade against nonhunting guns, the NRA wouldn't even CARE who won. Internet gun forums like the Firing Line and the High Road would once again go back to debating whether 9mm or .45 is the most versatile caliber, or whether .223 Remington is better than 7.62x39mm, instead of organizing to defeat the (mostly Democratic) politicians behind the ban du jour. And I'd be spending more time at the shooting range instead of blogging away at a computer.

It appears that at least some Democratic leaders are beginning to understand. Senator Russ Feingold, who voted for the original ban on nontraditional-looking and over-10-round guns in 1994, rethought the issue and voted against renewing the ban in 2004. And he won reelection.

So, now what? In light of this past election, will the party now stop, leave the issue up to the states, and leave law-abiding owners of nonhunting guns alone? Will the party now stay out of our gun safes, instead of risking election after election in order to get "just a little more" restrictions on the rights of law-abiding nonhunters?

Is the national party going to respect the Second Amendment rights of ALL gun-owning Americans, or just support only the relatively small fraction that chooses to hunt? Is outlawing nontraditional-looking guns really the single most important plank in the entire Democratic party platform, or will the party finally drop it--DROP IT--and move on to the issues the leadership says are more important? Will the party continue to present owners of nonhunting guns with the choice of "vote non-Democrat, or else"?

You tell me. And the other tens of millions of gun-owning nonhunters like me.

We'll be listening.

I wrote that almost exactly twelve years ago. And the party is still making the same damn mistakes, even though rifle and magazine bans play even worse now than they did then.


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