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Monday | September 09, 2002

Abandoning the gun issue

As the GOP surged in the 80's and early 90's, it had a real chance to force a true and lasting national political realignment. However, its fanatical adherence to social issues, particularly abortion, halted its growth and eventually provided the foundation for the Democratic Party counterattack that rolled back much of the GOP's gains. Even know, as Democrats surge around the nation, the GOP's right-wing social conservatives refuse to compromise, electing wingnuts in primaries and dooming the party to evisceration come November.

Abortion is one of the few issues that can single-handedly decide elections. Pro-Choice single-issue voters provided a bulwark against GOP hegemony. And, guns could be the bulwark against Democratic dominance.

I grew up in war-torn El Salvador, and also served in the US Army, so I have had first-hand experience with weapons of all calibers and types, as well as repercussions of their use. I have no love for guns, and will never own one. I am also a vegan animal rights supporter, and have no respect for hunters and other "outdoor sportsmen".

Yet, in politics we have to pick our battles in order to accomplish a greater good. The NRA has won this battle. It's time to capitulate and fight on other fronts.

This old Christian Science Monitor article summarized the dilemma as such:

Driving this shift is a realization among Democrats that they must do better in rural areas if they are to win control of Congress this fall, or the White House in 2004. Indeed, this year's battle for Congress could come down to a handful of rural districts in the Rocky Mountain West and the South. Democrats' top targets include seats in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Georgia areas where hunting is a way of life, and gun control is anathema.


The shift in tone can be traced to the aftermath of the 2000 election, and the pervasive belief that the issue cost Al Gore the presidency. Exit polls from 2000 showed that among gun owners, George W. Bush beat Mr. Gore by 61 to 39 percent. More significant, while 59 percent of union households went for Mr. Gore overall, those homes were just as likely to choose Bush if they contained guns.

The gun issue should be relegated to local politics. True, to be effective, this issue must be nationalized -- gun control in NY is useless if guns can be simply trucked in from Virginia, or Texas -- but it's a necessary compromise in order to bolster the full Dem agenda nationwide.

On the flip side, E.J. Dionne effectively argues that gun control is a winner issue in urban and suburban areas -- which are growing rapidly as a percentage of the electorate. Yet rural voters will continue to be a sizeable and motivated constituency -- ready to vote to protect their "right" to own the weapons of their choice. Gun control, despite all the Columbines in the world, will not have that "single-issue" effect on suburban voters (though that might change in a generation or two).

The country's new wave of southern Democrats are all pro-gun, and in a closely watched election last November, a Democrat captured the governorship in Virginia -- one of the nation's most reliably GOP states -- by specifically campaigning on his pro-gun bona fides. Now Dean and Edwards are proudly touting their pro-gun records as they launch nascent presidential bids.

National Democrats should encourage this trend, boosting their candidates' chances in the South and Mountain states, while keeping an eye on 2004.

True, the gun issue might be a foil for other social issues, as Kevin of Lean Left noted in the comments section of a previous post. Yet, by seeking NRA support, or dancing to Hank Williams, or sponsoring a NASCAR car, or by plucking a banjo, Democrats can effectively remove the gun issue from the table, exposing what's left -- hostility to racial tolerance, multiculturalism, and gay rights. If a Republican wants to run on those issues, all the power to him. If he wins, then his constituents are truly hicks, in the most negative connotation of the word.

But not all southerners are hicks. I know plenty of non-racist, non-homophobic, rodeo loving southerners who will happily vote for a Democrat -- but only if s/he is pro-gun. We need these people aboard if the Dems are to grow beyond their New England and West Coast strongholds and make inroads into the nation's many red states.

Posted September 09, 2002 11:42 AM | Comments (4)


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