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Political Animal


By Brian Morton | Posted 4/16/2008

Perhaps it's just as well that right when the coroner finished prying the gun from Charlton Heston's cold, dead hands the issue of guns comes up in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Unfortunately, it also comes right around today, one year after Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people in a rampage at Virginia Tech, after he had been diagnosed with mental disorders and still been able to purchase his guns.

It also comes nearly nine years to the day after Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris killed 12 students and a teacher in Columbine, Colo., after exploiting the nation's gun-show loophole, which still exists due to the failure of members in both parties to close it. That shooting occurred on April 19, 1999, and touched off an election season when the National Rifle Association bragged that it would be working out of George W. Bush's office--a claim that couldn't be more brazenly true unless the energy industry had said the same thing about sitting behind Dick Cheney's desk.

There's something about April and guns. Now the fever has reached into the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, where the NRA claims members well into the five-digit range (how many are actually still drawing breath, we don't know--the gun lobby doesn't audit its "life" members) and nobody wants to come off as "anti-gun" in the Alabama-like central part of the state.

Now, Barack Obama probably was less than diplomatic when he artlessly talked about how, when Washington doesn't listen to the concerns of average Americans, those people get "bitter" and "they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." But he wasn't inaccurate either.

But when Hillary Clinton brings up her "experience" with guns and hunting, and then turns around and claims that a question about the last time she fired a gun is not relevant, she's cutting herself off at the knees. For starters, there's no real reason why Clinton should be beating up Obama from the right, especially on the issue of guns--it shows as much of a tin ear as you can find in politics. The Clintons are no friend of the gun lobby, and no friend of friends of the gun lobby--pandering to those voters will do her no good whatsoever. When one runs for statewide office in New York, you run toward gun control, not away from it. Bill Clinton signed the assault weapons ban (a good thing), which helped hand the Congress to Republicans for 12 long years (not a good thing). Bill Clinton, in the weeks after the 2000 elections, said that the gun issue lost the elections for the Democrats that year, cutting the guts out of the gun-control movement (which beat 11 of 12 targeted candidates at the national level that year) from which it never recovered. I know about this personally--I worked for Sarah and Jim Brady then at what used to be called Handgun Control.

So for Hillary, who was virtually invisible on guns that year, to suddenly turn up in 2008 talking about learning how to shoot in duck blinds with her father is not only pointless but laugh-inducing in a nervous, not-so-funny way.

Since Bush got elected, nothing has happened with the gun-show loophole. The assault weapons ban is long gone. The gun lobby pushed for and got immunity from lawsuits--gun manufacturers could make weapons that explode in your hands and look like children's toys and they'd be fully exempt from lawsuits as to their liability. Any number of laws that might have changed the environment that allowed Cho to buy the guns in Virginia have died on the vine, yet here we are trying to see who can pander the most to the rural voters in Pennsylvania who could be better spending their time hearing a candidate talk about how their children can come home from Iraq or how they'll ever afford a house again. But guns? Please!

The silly thing is that gun control has little to nothing to do with hunting rifles. The gun lobby always appeals to hunters as if they were urban commandos facing a siege from the combined forces of Crips and Bloods when that has never been the case. But the NRA has a Field and Stream membership and a Soldier of Fortune leadership. And the leadership wants to argue the issue on their territory, which is one that Bush has been making more favorable to them for seven straight years.

I try to predict little in this world of politics, but the smart and sure money both are on the Bush-Roberts Supreme Court overturning almost 70 years of settled law by affirming the "individual rights" view of owning firearms come the end of June. And with that, the gun lobby's victory will almost be complete. And in the meantime, mass shootings will still occur, even in April, while a Democrat foolishly tries to talk to people who turned away from her long ago. H

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The Fix (8/4/2010)

Police State (7/7/2010)

Funny Business (6/9/2010)

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