Since President Barack Obama called on Congress to reinstate a new assault weapons ban Wednesday, pundits have been quick to point out how that type of legislation is a losing proposition for Democrats, pointing to the Republican tidal wave after the 1994 midterm election after the ban had become law.
While the '94 election proved Americans wanted Democrats out of congressional power (more than 50 Democratic seats were lost), it's less clear if the weapons ban, or any one issue, was the primary reason for their loss.
"This is a mythology that has developed," says Philip Klinkner, who edited a book about the '94 elections. "That narrative stretches things way too far."
The truth, political scientists say, is that it can be attributed to a combination of factors, and the "assault weapons" ban was just one of several controversial votes that led to the loss.
With Democrats in charge of the House, Senate and White House, the 103rd Congress tackled a long, progressive wish list. The White House pressured legislators to take on healthcare reform (unsuccessfully), pass the North American Free Trade Agreement and raise taxes through a deficit reduction act, which was fraught with political land mines for congressional Democrats. None of the policies helped earn legislators points back home among their more conservative constituents.
"The vote for gun control mattered, but the vote for the tax increase and healthcare were more important," says Gary Jacobson, who has done a statistical analysis of what votes affected the outcome of the 1994 election.
Many Democrats were also already on borrowed time to begin with. They held 73 seats in Republican-leaning congressional districts.
"You had a soft economy, and you had large Democratic majorities built in congressional districts that for years had gone to Republican presidential candidates," Klinkner says.
In the end, Republicans picked up nearly 40 red-leaning seats, many of which were in the South, and another 16 blue-leaning districts.
Jacobson says the gun legislation was unpopular among National Rifle Association members, who tend to be one-issue voters. Yet, other conservatives liked pieces of the overall anti-crime legislation, which included putting more cops back on the streets.
He adds that the groups like the NRA have perpetuated the narrative that gun laws were responsible for the 1994 loss to frighten future incumbents and warn them that gun control is a loosing issue.
"They have a few trophies and this is one of them," Jacobson says. "They don't have to win every time, but if they can show that a well-entrenched opponent got knocked off because the NRA opposed them, it makes a congressman living in an uncertain world nervous."
The current political landscape, however, looks very different than it did in 1994. Republicans control the House and Democrats have a slight majority in Senate, though some Democratic seats are vulnerable in 2014 due to upcoming elections in pro-gun states.
"There will be a lot of noise and very little action," Jacobson predicts based on the current make up of Congress. "I will be surprised if anything gets done that cannot be accomplished with an executive order."