Congressional Gun Control Hearing Reveals Folly of NRA and Red State Dems
Following the tragic Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, all the stars seemed to be in alignment for the implementation of common sense gun control. But you can always trust the Democratic Party to snatch at least a partial defeat from the jaws of victory.
Notable politicians from both parties including Mayor Michael Bloomberg (D-NY), Governor Andrew Cuomo (R-NY), Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and even President Barack Obama himself have been pushing previously taboo measures to reign in gun violence in America. In a sign that the issue has taken center stage in the national debate, the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), held a hearing today on the subject.
Most notable among the proposed solutions is an assault weapons ban that would make it illegal to own a number of semi-automatic firearms like the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle that Newtown shooter Adam Lanza used to murder 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 20 of them children. The Senators will also discuss universal background checks and closing the gunshow loophole.
It is not shocking that the G.O.P. would oppose gun control. The Republican party’s anti-democratic tendencies have always grown commensurately with its desperation. Faced with unsettling demographic realities, Republicans have abandoned any pretense of winning over the public with arguments, resorting instead to procedural gimmicks like the filibuster and gerrymandering to restrict the democratic rights of their ideological opponents, particularly those of minorities. In a desperate plight following their election rout last year, it would hardly make sense for the G.O.P. to oppose the NRA, one of its largest contributors.
Democrats, on the other hand, ostensibly the party of gun control, have a moral and political obligation to address the dangerous excesses of the gun industry. Alas, continuing in a long tradition of political cowardice and knee-jerk self-sabotage dating back to the Reagan Revolution, a sizable minority of Democrats have chosen different paths, opposing gun control outright or only coming out in favor of universal background checks (like Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont). It is easy to see why some Democrats are reluctant to buck the NRA. The vanguard for the gun industry wields tremendous power in Washington, outspending gun control advocates 9.5 to 1.
But if the 2012 elections proved anything, it’s that outside spending, while providing a sizable advantage to its beneficiaries, can only accomplish so much. In the past, red state Democrats could justify their opposition to gun control on the grounds that a majority of Americans opposed gun control. No longer. A poll released yesterday morning by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reveals:
“89 percent support closing the so-called gun show loophole by requiring background checks for all firearms sale; 69 percent support banning the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons; while 68 percent support banning the sale of large-capacity ammunition magazines.”
A Gallup poll addressing Americans’ views on gun control yielded similar results. It may have taken the senseless massacre of innocent children to serve as a wake-up call, but at long last the nation is prepared to confront the reality of gun violence. Despite overwhelming support for the broad gun control measures, stricter background checks alone seem to stand a chance of passing Congress, in part due to misguided obstructionism on the part of red state Democrats.
They are encouraged in their cynicism by the likes of Harry Reid and beloved elder statesman Bill Clinton, the former President who passed an ill-fated assault weapons ban in 1994. Although not necessarily opposed to gun control in principle, these Democrats believe that taking on the NRA is bound to result in an electoral drubbing for Democrats in 2014. Moderation, they suggest, is the way to go.
The recent past demonstrates the folly of this approach. Despite their desperate attempts to appear moderate, many Democrats who operated on this assumption were swept out of power by the Tea Party in 2010. One might think that Democrats would heed the lesson of the 2010 mid-term elections: that tacking to the center will not endear them to an electorate more susceptible to principles (even insane principles) than opportunistic pragmatism. President Obama, who operated on the flawed assumption that he could compromise with a party dedicated to making him a one-term president, has partially learned his lesson, striking a left-of-center populist tone and taking his case directly to the people.
Yet, despite superficial similarities, this is not 2008. Without the specter of poorly-sold healthcare reform looming over the Democratic Party, now is the time to govern in a unified fashion and move public opinion with a strong defense of liberal values. The G.O.P. is more unpopular than ever, and their views on gun control viewed by many as backward. If the balance of power does shift back to the right, Democrats will regret passing up this rare opportunity to safeguard the security of the American people.