The Nation's Pulse: Guns in Your Political Future

Rabkin, Jeremy

"The Nation's Pulse: Guns in Your Political Future" by Jeremy Rabkin Guns in Your Political Future Bill Clinton's commitment to gun control is a winner...

...Clinton has been rolling with the issue ever since, apparently to great effect...
...Almost certainly the NRA helped GOP-backed Woody Jenkins achieve his come-frombehind first place finish in Louisiana's September 21, ten-man, multi-party primary for the state's open U.S...
...There is even more at stake than this general contrast between the intensity of the two sides...
...Tommy Thompson - Hon...
...George Pataki Rep...
...If 1996 con tinues to play out as an aimless re-election pageant for Clinton, turnout may again be low...
...Particularly in the South and West-regions where even Democrats have traditionally been eager to boast of NRA support-the trend is just the reverse...
...Gun control may be one of the great sleeper issues of the 1996 elections...
...Don Nickles Gov...
...Fred Thompson Gov...
...Paul Tsongas Marilyn vos Savant Rep...
...Alan Greenspan Sen...
...30) $ 89 $ 59 Regular Registration $129 $ 99 *Includes lunch with prominent keynote speakers all three days...
...Meanwhile, NRA-endorsed Republicans have been running ahead of their Democratic opponents in contests to determine who will replace retiring Democratic senators in Georgia and Alabama...
...Unless Dole so demoralizes Republicans that vast numbers of them stay home, the lowered turnout should help candidates with more intensely committed mass-constituencies-like pro-gun Republicans...
...There is also the question of turnout...
...If all citizens were disarmed, gun control advocates say, government would do a better job of protecting us all from violent assault...
...More importantly, Clinton has consistently and loudly defended the gun control legislation enacted during his first two years in office, and used this commitment to portray Republicans as pawns of the National Rifle Association...
...It was precisely the freshmen, those most vulnerable to challenge in the coming elections, who were most eager to demonstrate their loyalty to the anti-gun control forces: sixty-six of the seventy-four GOP House freshmen (89 percent) voted for the repeal (which received 81 percent Republican support overall in the House vote...
...Senate seat...
...It has over three million dues-paying members, dwarfing such "mass-membership" organizations as the ACLU, NOW, the Sierra Club, and Ralph Nader's Public Citizen...
...According to one reported in the Washington Post, a third of all voters in the '94 congressional elections claimed to be "NRA voters," and two-thirds of these voted for Republican candidates...
...Looming beyond the current election is the larger question of whether people can trust the government to protect them...
...In Republican primaries, the winners in recent months have usually been those endorsed by the NRA...
...A majority of Southern Democrats in the House actually voted for repeal of the "assault weapons" ban last March (while other Democrats went strongly the other way...
...Democratic Speaker Tom Foley (of eastern Washington State's prime hunting country) was an NRA life-member, as was his predecessor Jim Wright of Texas...
...Against the wishes of the leadership, the House freshmen insisted on holding a vote on the repeal of the assault weapons ban in March of this year...
...Anoth er exit poll taken during the 1994 elec tions asked voters to identify the organization that "speaks for me all of the time," and found that more respondents named the NRA (27 percent) than either the Republican Party (23 percent) or the Democratic Party (22 percent)-while Ross Perot's United We Stand (15 percent) and the Christian Coalition (17 percent) trailed even further behind...
...At the same time that Clinton has been tout ing the virtues of his assault weapons ban, more and more states have enacted laws allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons for self-protection...
...But perhaps that is not Clinton's concern, anyway...
...While polls show broad support for gun control, they also show that most people do not expect such controls to do much good...
...Thus, despite polls showing broad national support for national gun control measures in this periodand much loud advocacy on behalf of control measures among prominent politicians-no gun control measure of any kind reached the floor of Congress between 1968 and 1988...
...The NRA's endorsement may have helped Bob Riley to gain the Republican nomination in a multi-candidate primary field for an Alabama House seat...
...FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO REGISTER, CALL 1-800-TAX HALT 55 The American Spectator . November i 9 9 6...
...And they, too, are right to feel this way: leading gun control advocates make no secret of their view that handguns, as well as all other guns not directly related to hunting, should be banned...
...As recently as five years ago, the NRA estimated that its membership was about evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans...
...The NRA claims that its "affiliates" -past members, spouses, children, or other relatives of members who don't pay dues but "identify" with the organization approach thirty million...
...There is regional variation...
...Newt Gingrich Chief Reuben Greenberg Hon...
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...After intense last minute White House lobbying, the bill passed by a mere two votes in the House...
...Rob Portman Jim Rogers Sen...
...The feelgood postures that have helped Clinton in the current race do not seem well calculated to help Democrats regain control of Congress this year, nor to revive their political prospects over the long run...
...BillArcher Rep...
...The fundraising lead of Republican incumbents is one reason that most analysts expect Republicans to retain control of the House...
...The law banned future sales of an assortment of guns, which, as opponents insisted, were so arbitrarily defined as clearly to invite a new round of bans later on...
...Like most advocacy groups 52 November r 9 9 6 The American Spectator with a focused agenda, it quite cheerfully supported both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, so long as they adhered to the NRA's positions...
...Hotel: The Sheraton Washington Hotel is convenient to museums, monuments and Metroreil...
...Given the deeper currents of distrust toward government, the gun-owners' appeal to self-reliance is likely to have even more resonance over the long-run...
...John Kasich Sen...
...John McCain Rep...
...44 How can the NRA have so much electoral clout if Bill Clinton is doing so well with anti-gun rhetoric...
...William Roth Sen...
...Partly, this reflects the intensity of NRA efforts...
...IF YOU'RE FED UP WITH BIG GOVERNMENT, YOU CAN'T AFFORD TO MISS...
...Among the 35 million owners of handguns, a substantial majority say they own guns primarily for "protection"-and some 7 million, according to polls, claim to have already drawn a gun for that purpose at one time or another...
...Paul Coverdell James Dale Davidson Gov...
...It was a notoriously effective advocacy group, even during the 197o's and 8o's, when Democrats dominated Congress and liberals generally seemed to dominate in Democratic councils...
...Unlike Reagan and Bush, Dole did not receive the NRA's endorsementand seems relieved not to have it...
...Many troublesome hurdles or burdens can be imposed on legitimate gun owners without affecting criminal access to 54 November r 9 9 6 The American Spectator guns...
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...That number may sound like self-serving bluster...
...In the Senate, Majority Leader Dole promised to make repeal of the assault weapons ban a "top legislative priority...
...David McIntosh Sen...
...The measures that did get through the House or the Senate over the next four years never survived to final enactment...
...Other analysts ventured that more than fifty House races may have been decisively affected by opposition to gun control (since the number of local NRA members in these districts exceeded the margin of victory of the NRA backed winner in these races...
...Trent Lott Sen...
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...A simple way to account for this paradox is to note the difference between an organized and intensely committed minority and a distracted, tentative majority...
...J. (.Watts RobertWoodson The forces of government are still too big and too intrusive...
...In the opening weeks of the current Congress, Dole announced his support for repeal of the 1994 assault weapons ban, but then backed away during the primary season last spring and has been running from the gun issue ever since...
...In Illinois, Al Salvi, a relative outsider, defied party leaders to win the Republican nomination for the U.S...
...It imposed a one-week delay on gun purchases with a requirement for local police checks on the background of the purchaser, but also directed that this requirement expire after five years and stipulated that the whole system should be abandoned even before that, if the justice Department could certify that a national, computerized "insta-check" system (the alternative favored by NRA) had been put in place...
...But you can learn how to fight back - and win...
...But the action of the House Republicans tells something important about the coming elections...
...The effect was dramatic-and one-sided...
...As Clinton pressed Democrats to fall in line behind the assault weapons ban, the NRA shifted its usual bipartisan strategy and gave disproportionate support to Republican candidates...
...The repeal bill continued to be buried in the Senate, as Dole continued his flight from the taint of the NRA...
...Almost certainly the defeat of Foley himself in eastern Washington (and of grizzled veteran Jack Brooks) was due to the NRA's switch in support-for the first time-to their Republican challengers...
...The Republican Congress has been resolutely hostile to gun control measures and the odds are that the new Congress will be the same...
...Yet the House Republicans were not rolled...
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...It has enhanced his claim to be taking a firm line against violent crime-an unusual asset for a Democratic politician...
...DickArmey Gov...
...That may have been the single most decisive factor in the ensuing Republican landslide that fall...
...Hearings on abuses of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, whose heavy-handed tactics had long been resented by gun dealers, were one immediate payback to the NRA from the new Congress...
...In Kansas, where retiring Republican Senator Nancy Kassebaum was a firm supporter of recent gun control measures (and Dole seems to have abandoned his previous opposition to gun control), primary races yielded strong oppo nents of control as Republican contenders for both seats...
...The history of gun control efforts is revealing, not least because it has been consistently underreported in the general media, which finds it hard to imagine that any substantial number of real voters could possibly oppose gun control...
...The new Republican leadership certainly got the message...
...Judd Gregg Rep...
...The "assault weapons" ban was pushed through Congress in the summer of 1994, amidst much more bitter opposition...
...For voters of this kind-and there may be tens of millions -of them-this is precisely the issue on which they will cast their ballot in congressional races...
...Also featured was Carolyn McCarthy, a Democratic candidate for Congress from suburban Long Island, New York...
...The version of the measure finally enacted in the fall of 1993 was actually a compromise...
...He only needs a majority to feel good about him for just a little longer...
...Initial studies claim they have a measurable impact in reducing violent crime...
...But the major news media seem to regard gun control as simply one more shimmering image, beckoning dreamy voters onto Clinton's bridge to the future...
...But the story goes beyond that...
...But at a White House meeting in August, Clinton pollster Stan Greenberg produced data which demonstrated, he claimed, that no Democrat would suffer in the coming election for supporting the "assault weapons" ban...
...Speaker Gingrich affirmed his support for "broad Second Amendment rights and not duck-hunting rights," and assured the NRA that no gun control measure would pass the House under his speakership...
...Senate in a hotly contested primary: Salvi received strong support from the NRA, while his established opponent disdained it...
...Her main claim to the nomination is that she, like the Bradys, is a victim of gun violence...
...Sarah and James Brady, though nominal Republicans, were featured speakers at the Democratic convention in Chicago, there to celebrate the gun control cause...
...But the actual voter history is quite well known to the Clinton White House...
...Having abandoned liberal positions on welfare, gay rights, and budget balancing, gun control is one of Clinton's only remaining commitments to the historic liberal agenda...
...for him nationally-and a killer for Democrats locally...
...Paul Simon Hon...
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...The organization contributed more money to House freshmen in 1995 than any other PAC -and almost all of that money went to refurbish GOP campaign war chests...
...One sign this tactic is working is that it has spooked Bob Dole...
...Three months after the 53 The American Spectator November r 9 9 6 election, Clinton himself told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that the vote on the assault weapons ban had cost the Democrats twenty seats in the House (in an election which brought a Republican majority of only fourteen seats...
...Violent crime has dropped somewhat in recent years, but gun ownership has notably increased in recent years as well, and many people sense a connection...
...This expectation is almost certainly correct: in a country where there are already some 70 million handguns-very durable items -in private hands, no feasible control measure is likely to make it very difficult for criminals to get guns...
...President Clinton masterfully used the episode to suggest a link between crazed "militias" and respectable defenders of gun ownership and to drape the NRA around the neck of squirming Republicans...
...He plumped for another-a proposal to ban heavy "cop-killer" bullets-in accepting the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police in mid-September...
...And they won that vote...
...Dole changed his mind about repeal of the gun ban and even Newt Gingrich tried to put the repeal on hold...
...Evan Bayh J. Kenneth Blackwell David Brinkley Gov...
...The central argument of gun owners is that it is foolish to place so much trust in government, that one must be prepared to defend oneself...
...Her husband was one of the fatalities, and her son one of those gravely wounded, when a murderous psychotic sprayed bullets throughout a Long Island Railroad passenger car in 1993...
...Polls show that Clinton's support for gun control has played well with most voters...
...George W. Bush Sen...
...Measures like the assault weapons ban may thus be bucking a more powerful current beneath the surface...
...How can the NRA have so much electoral clout if Clinton is doing so well with anti-gun rhetoric...
...The Clinton campaign has given a prominent place to gun control in its campaign imagery...
...President Clinton sought to change all this...
...But beneath the surface, there is a very different picture...
...So Clinton gets credit from voters for being compassionate and concerned and perhaps even for "standing up to the gun lobby," even as many of these voters do not feel strongly enough to let their votes in a congressional race turn on the gun issue...
...Clinton's dramatizing of the issue may hurt these regional candidates, without doing much to harm Republicans in places more sympathetic to gun control...
...And, in case anyone missed the point, Clinton offered a series of proposals for further gun controls on his way to accept the nomination in Chicago...
...But polls after the 1994 elections showed astonishingly widespread support for the NRA...
...It is one of the oldest insights of political science and it certainly applies here...
...Clinton's enthusiasm for gun control does not seem to be helping Democratic congressional candidates...
...In his first year in office, he suc 4 Dole did not receive the NRA's endorsement and seems relieved not to have it...
...On the other side, gun owners fear that new control measures will try to take their guns away, and are deeply committed to resisting such measures...
...Enthusiastically endorsed by the NRA, such laws are now in effect in thirty-one states, and govern a majority of the American people...
...John Engler Steve Forbes Rep...
...Call (202) 328-2900 for reservations...
...The NRA is not just another lobby...
...Then came the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in April 1995...
...MEET citizen activists who have transformed state and local tax policy...
...JEREMY RABKIN teaches government at Cornell University...
...Speaker Foley and Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell were among leading Democrats who urged Clinton to detach this measure from his much ballyhooed package of crime control measures, lest the gun ban drag down the whole crime bill...
...cessfully pushed for enactment of the "Brady bill" -the control measure championed by Sarah and Jim Brady and loudly opposed by the NRA...
...The gun issue is most salient-and cuts most in favor of Republicans-in those Southern and western states where Democrats have been most hard pressed in holding (or regaining) congressional seats...
...No incumbent opposed by Handgun Control, the leading advocacy organization on the other side, was defeated in 1994, but of the thirty-four House incumbents defeated in 1994 (all of them Democrats), twenty-nine had voted for the assault weapons ban and lost their seats to NRA-backed challengers...
...T H E N A T I O N' S P U L S E by Jeremy Rabkin Guns in Your Political Future Bill Clinton's commitment to gun control is a winner...
...J:L~r: et l0 10 2:00 p i Sr NN~, JANrAai 12, 199^ D(, INVITED SPEAKERS: Rep...
...The NBA's electoral impact was clearly magnified by the lower turnout in the mid-term elections of 1994...
...As opponents of the measure feared-and Sarah Brady, herself, had boasted-passage of the bill opened the way for new control measures...
...So were House Democratic titans such as John Dingell (of Michigan), chairman of the Commerce Committee, and Jack Brooks (of Texas), chairman of the Judiciary Committee...
...As the campaign entered its middle stretch in early fall, the NRA was predicting an overall increase in the number of sympathetic representatives and senators in the new Congress...
...The contending sides in this ongoing American debate are certainly wide awake and quite alert to the potential stakes...
...David M. Stanley John Stossel Sen...

Vol. 29 • November 1996 • No. 11


 
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