With the recent school shootings in Oregon, and Arizona gun control has become a major topic for democratic candidates in this election cycle. The media attention these shootings received, and their proximity to the Democratic debates almost ensured that it would be a topic of discussion. Many Democratic nominees have tried to avoid gun control as a topic of discussion. It makes sense when you consider that thirty two percent of Americans are gun owners, and Bernie Sanders—one of the top nominees—is from a very gun friendly state. Alienating such a large group of people is political suicide.
After the passage of the 1994 Assault weapons ban by Clinton, democrats lost their majority in the following election. After Martin O’Malley passed the assault weapons ban in Maryland, his successor lost the mayoral election to a republican. So it makes sense that many Democrats would be hesitant to take a strong stance on gun control. That is changing however. Hillary Clinton made it clear in the democratic debates that she would seek to toughen restrictions on both gun owners, and manufacturers. Hillary Clinton mentioned that “We have to look at the fact that we lose 90 people a day from gun violence” and stand up “…Against the NRA”. Though her statistic is misguided, and includes gun suicides–which account for two thirds of all gun deaths—and does not explain how restrictions on manufacturers would prevent suicide, she is showing a clear willingness to proceed with stricter gun control.
Many Republicans are delighted by this move because they believe that “Democrats are underestimating the power of the pro-gun-rights movement and risk overplaying their hand on the issue”. It is very true that taking a strong stance on a delicate issue can alienate the majority of voters. If Hillary continues to suggest legislation that is too restricting she risks making enemies of the majority of moderate gun owners. The fact of the matter is that “…only about half the public feels an impetus for greater restrictions on gun ownership” and that “People are also split on the effectiveness of stricter gun laws or background checks in stopping convicted criminals from buying guns”. So once again taking a strong stance on such a dividing issue could easily alienate a huge amount of the electorate. If democrats are not careful to frame their arguments for new gun control, then they could easily lose seats in congress, or even the presidency.
Once again a national tragedy is being used to advocate a political agenda. One that would see the ban of the media termed assault weapons, or as Bernie Sanders has suggested all semi-automatic rifles. Even though rifles account for under 3% of the total firearm homicides in this country, they are being targeted. Hillary Clinton mentioned that ninety Americans are killed each day by firearms. Sixty of those deaths are suicides, and their preventability is debatable. Of the remaining thirty, over half killed each day are African American males. That is six percent of the population accounting for half of the nation’s firearm homicides. Why is this not a topic for national debate? Why is gun violence always linked to the availability of guns, and not the poverty, and drug trafficking that is so prevalent in our nations inner cities? Cities that account for a disproportionate amount of firearm deaths per capita. Maybe our politicians should spend more political capital on the societal factors behind gun violence, and less so on the guns themselves.