California Senator Dianne Feinstein (D) is not the only Democrats who wants gun control laws strengthened in the country. But she is one of the few who want tougher laws who will speak out publicly. Feinstein was part of San Francisco city government when Mayor = George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated in 1978. Across the political spectrum in the wake of the tragic events that took place at a theater in Aurora, Colorado Friday morning there has been a mix of responses. Democrats like Feinstein argue it might not have happened if we at least had the Assault Weapons ban in place (it expired in 2004). Independents like NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg ignored the grief of the affected families to call for greater gun control the day it happened. As expected, conservatives and Republicans pushed back, largely arguing evil exists and that this would have happened regardless of whatever laws were on the books. The media mistakenly accused the shooter of being linked to the Tea Party.
However, Democrats should remember that a solid majority, 80% or more in some polls, want to see gun restriction laws loosened, not increased. They would also be wise to remember the lessons of Bill Clinton’s first term and the blow-back they received from voters over the Brady Bill and Federal Assault Weapons Ban.
The Brady Bill was passed in 1993, went into effect in 1994, and largely put more restrictions and requirements on buying any weapon. The Brady Bill is still in existence today, however it has been weakened by the Supreme Court over the years. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban was passed in 1994 as part of the much larger Violent Crime Control and Enforcement Act. The law made owning any automatic or semi-automatic weapon illegal. To make the law more appealing it also allocated $1.6 billion to help investigate crimes against women, build new prisons and hire 100,000 new police officers across the country.
Not surprisingly in November 1994 voters did not react kindly to the new laws. The NRA turned against many gun-supporting Southern Democrats who had backed the measures in favor of new conservative Republicans. Rural, blue-collar conservative Democrats turned against their party in what came to be termed “The Republican Revolution.”
Now certainly other factors played into the “Republican Revolution.” Clinton’s push for a single payer Healthcare system, a plethora of scandals and the disastrous withdrawal of US peacekeepers from Somalia all played into Republicans victory. But it does bear mentioning that Democrats did not even notice the blow back that was arising from the public until late 1994. Could Democrats repeat that same mistake in 2012?
It is possible of course that Democrats could ignite another backlash this cycle if the push to far on gun control. But Democrats are helped by the fact that no longer are only Southern Democrats pro-gun rights. Many prominent moderate/conservative Democrats, such as Governor John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and former Indiana Senator Evan Bayh (D) are pro gun-rights. Furthermore, many Democrats who hail from states where they could support new gun control legislation and survive politically will not do so because it would be disastrous for the party nationally.
The reasons are fairly obvious. Though many Democrats are loath to discuss it as I have, 1994 was partly a result of the backlash to the Brady Bill and Federal Automatic Rifles Ban. Since Republicans have become ascendant in the House (excluding 2006 and 2008), the NRA has become much more vocal in its opposition to new gun restrictions. They have found a willing partner in almost every wing of the GOP. They used to not have that luxury with the Democratic Party. Third, in an election year where Democrats are trying to retain the White House, retake the House and hold the Senate in conservative turf the party is wary of alienating gun owning, populist, white swing voters in those areas of the country. Lastly, the party is not in complete agreement that greater gun restrictions is the answer to preventing violent gun crimes in the US.
Chicago provides a case in point. The city recently surpassed DC as having the greatest number of deaths attributable to gun crimes. Yet Chicago has not just an assault weapons ban, but a gun ban. The result has not stopped the steadily increasing wave of violence in the city. Norway’s tight gun control laws could not prevent Anders Behring Breivik from acquiring an impressive array of firepower and unleashing it on his unsuspecting victims on the island of Utoya. In fact, there is mounting evidence that despite Norway’s strict gun control laws they are easy to circumvent. It is not a stretch to think new gun control laws in this country passed in the wake of the Aurora tragedy would be any different.
It is natural for a nation, for a people, to try to find answers to why a senseless action could result in so many lives cut short. I don’t have an answer. Honestly neither do those who advocate for greater gun restrictions or those who support gun rights. Evil exists in all forms and no matter what restrictions are put in place evil will commit its atrocious act. History has shown this time and time again.
In answering whether greater gun restrictions would make the nation safer, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, in an interview with Roll Call, summed it up best, “”This is a case of evil, of somebody who was an aberration of nature,” he said. “If it wasn’t one weapon, it would have been another.” He said he would try to prevent incidents like this from happening again but said “I’m not sure there’s any way in a free society to be able to do that.”
True words indeed!