to Win the Gun Vote: A Third Way Approach
There are many groups the Democrats do not do well with in
elections. One group is gun owners. Gun owners voted for Bush
by a 2:1 ratio in 2000. That was more than any other gap between
the parties, from gender to religion. The stereotypical view
of the far right is that owning a gun is every citizen's patriotic
duty so they can overthrow a "tyrannical" government, while
the stereotypical view of the far left is that all guns have
to be banned from every private citizen.
The National Rifle Association used this issue in states
like West Virginia in 2000 to convince gun owners that Al
Gore would take away all of their guns if elected president.
That was probably partly because of Gore's position on guns,
that all gun owners should be licensed.
Positions like this play right into the hands of the National
Rifle Association, which wants to turn the gun debate from
a Clintonesqe Third Way, or DLC approach, of keeping guns
out of the hands of those who should not have them, to a debate
about the right for anyone to own guns. Democrats just cannot
play into the hands of the NRA if they are to win. Some analysts
also believe that the gun issue is why the Democrats failed
to recapture the House and Senate in 2000.
There are some recent examples of the right way to pass gun
safety laws, and the wrong way.
The right way: In 2000, voters, including a majority of gun
owners, in two pro-gun states, Colorado and Oregon, overwhelmingly
passed referenda requiring criminal background checks at gun
shows. John McCain worked hard to assure the gun owners that
the law would not end gun shows or take guns away. Americans
for Gun Safety spent nearly $3 million for ads, phone banks,
and direct mail urging passage of the referenda. The "Washington
Post" said that the victories were "a stinging setback for
the National Rifle Association."
The wrong way: Last year gun control groups in a county in
Maryland barely passed a law preventing gun shows on public
property. That played right into the hands of the NRA, because
they could claim that the bill was evidence that gun control
groups want to take away everyone's guns. What is the major
difference between the two approaches? The first approach
increased gun safety, while the second did nothing for gun
safety and was anti-gun.
Fortunately the NRA is not as strong as one might think.
Only 10% of gun owners are members of the NRA. Five out of
seven NRA-backed senate candidates lost in 2000, and states
that the NRA heavily campaigned in like Michigan and Pennsylvania,
voted for Gore in 2000.
What the Democratic Leadership Council calls the "Third Way"
on guns is one supported by the vast majority of Americans,
including the vast majority of gun owners. The Third Way on
guns is much like President Clinton's approach to guns throughout
his presidency, including when he passed the Brady Bill. The
Third Way calls for gun safety that keeps guns out of the
hands of criminals, the insane and children, while not treating
law abiding gun owners like sociopaths or criminals.
That is the key to winning the gun vote. Treat gun owners
as equals, and do not act like you want to take away guns
from law abiding gun owners. One way for the Democratic Party
to not win gun owners is to look down on them.
One example of good gun safety legislation is the bipartisan
McCain-Lieberman bill to close the gun-show loophole and crack
down on gun crimes. The McCain-Lieberman bill would require
background checks at each of the more than 4,000 gun shows
held each year. Unlike previous legislation to close the gun-show
loophole sponsored by former Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg
of New Jersey, this bill does not treat hobbyists who attend
these shows like dangerous social misfits.
For example, it would not impose gun-show paperwork requirements
on collectors who sell guns in their homes. Nor would it require
that records from gun-show sales be sent to Washington. It
also eliminates the point that prevented passage of the Lautenberg
bill last year: the time limit for completing background checks.
Gun-control groups have pushed for a period of up to three
business days to complete the checks. The NRA wants no more
than 24 hours.
The gun vote is a winnable vote for Democrats. Positions,
such as Al Gore's in 2000, requiring the licensing of gun
owners, will only scare away gun owners. Winning the gun vote
is one major step to building a future Democratic majority
in American politics.