It’s disappointing to see the retreat Democrats have taken on sensible gun control in recent years. Then-Rep. Chuck Schumer went on his own courageous political rampage in the early 1990s, winning enough votes to pass the Brady Bill despite opposition from many Democrats, including then-House Speaker, Democrat Tom Foley. The National Rifle Association fought back, succeeding in defeating some of the people who voted for gun control. And since then, gun control has been largely abandoned by a Democratic party wary of offending voters in rural areas. [Read more about gun control and gun rights.]
The assault weapons ban expired in 2004, and efforts to revive it have been unsuccessful. The Supreme Court has struck down handgun bans in Chicago and the District of Columbia. The Democratic National Committee’s party platform has been increasingly soft on the issue, and a number of Democratic candidates have touted their Second Amendment commitments in campaigns.
So why are gun owners so worried? President Obama has showed no signs he wants to take away anyone’s guns. In fact, he signed legislation expanding gun rights by allowing people to bring firearms into federal parks. Despite the terrible tragedy in Tucson—which, as Speaker John Boehner very rightly noted, was not just an attack on individual victims, but an attack on all members of Congress—Obama made no call for gun control in his State of the Union address. Democrats know this issue is a losing campaign issue for them. [The Year in Cartoons: 2010.]
The real divide here may not be about guns at all, but about a culture clash with small-government advocates, gun owners, and conservatives feeling threatened by the big-city, allegedly big-government types who dominated the 2008 elections. That’s an overplayed rift characterized by overreaction all the way around. And that division must be discussed and healed if Congress is to work cooperatively. But guns, despite the fears of firearms owners, are not part of the battle right now.