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Why we all need the Democrats to abandon gun control


At this year's annual Gun Rights Policy Conference in September, National Rifle Association President Sandy Froman endorsed Arizona Sen. John McCain in the upcoming presidential election. This came as no surprise; the Democrats have long been denounced by the NRA as the anti-Second Amendment party — Nanny-State know-it-alls, Big-Government gun-controllers out of touch with the majority of Americans, yearning to impose their vision on a population that wants none of it.

In this election, however, it's not that simple. The U.S. is facing a host of challenges, most of them brought on by the antics of a Republican administration that governed as a team of mendacious plunderers, with no regard for the future, or even for the beliefs that their own party once espoused. The Constitution — the very document that guarantees the right to keep and bear arms — has been treated with scorn. The economy, manipulated by the kind of "crony capitalism" we once despised in less-enlightened nations, is a shambles, at least for the middle class, and our energy policies are the laughingstock of the developed world. Today's Republicans are not just the party of the Second Amendment; they are also the party of the big energy companies. Is it possible, then, that gun-rights advocates might consider voting for someone who is not a Republican?

It's unlikely, unless the Democrats start acknowledging the gun vote and respecting the views of Second Amendment proponents. Gun owners represent at least 4 million of the nation's most dedicated voters. Election after election, they help change the outcome, sometimes electing politicians who are inept, corrupt or unabashed lackeys of corporate interests — people whose only appeal to gun owners is that they promise to leave the Second Amendment alone.

Now, however, the Second Amendment is more resistant to those politicians who might want to mess with it. The Supreme Court's recent Heller decision just declared Washington, D.C.'s restrictive firearms laws unconstitutional, thus weakening the power of state and local politicians to control guns or limit gun ownership. Given that — and given what is at stake in the U.S. today — it may be time for Democratic and independent voters to simply give up on gun control. We have so many more pressing issues to deal with.

For two decades, many liberals have thrived on despising the NRA and its members. Those who believe in gun control often hold enormous prejudice against those who don't. But there are already reams of laws pertaining to the use, abuse, purchase and sale of firearms. What new regulations would the gun-controllers create, and how would they work to address the problem of gun violence? Do they want to prohibit private ownership of firearms altogether? Many would like to ban handguns, without considering just what this would entail, what inequities of power would result, and what new, potentially dangerous, powers would have to be awarded to government to accomplish it. Like activists who want to ban pit bulls, the gun-control advocates remain relentlessly unspecific about what they hope to achieve. It has become clear, too, that these advocates hold a double standard regarding the U.S. Constitution: The First Amendment is vital to the health of a free nation, as is the Fourth, but the Second is respected only by the un-evolved and the violent. Only the parts of the Constitution that their side respects are valid, in this view.

According to Dave Workman, the senior editor of GunWeek, a publication of the Bellevue, Wash.-based Second Amendment Foundation, "The Clinton-era 'assault weapons ban' was more symbolic than anything else. The reason it was so overwhelmingly supported by the gun control movement was because it represented a federal ban on firearms based on cosmetic circumstances — what they looked like — not on their lethality. It was to condition the public to accept a piecemeal destruction of the Second Amendment."

Workman believes there was much to learn from the Clinton election. "When George H. W. Bush took the gun vote for granted in 1992, most of the gun owners voted for Ross Perot, or else they sat it out," he says. The election of Clinton, though, and what followed, cemented the gun voters' dislike of the Democratic Party. The Brady Law went into effect in 1993, and the "assault weapons ban" passed a year later. That was enough, says Workman, for the gun voters to see "how this was all going. They mobilized and threw out many of the Democrats, costing them control of Congress (in 1994)." The National Rifle Association first endorsed a presidential candidate — Ronald Reagan — in 1980, but gun politics as we know them today were born in 1994.

Since then, the gun vote has gone to the Republicans, and that is not expected to change anytime soon, even with pro-gun Democrats like Montana's Gov. Brian Schweitzer or Sen. Jon Tester gaining prominence. "It is not that the gun vote will not cross party lines," Workman said. "We know that there are a lot of pro-gun Democrats now, and we are not the one-mind, one-thought Neanderthals that many liberals believe us to be. But the Republican party remains the party of the gun owners, because the most entrenched Democrats are the old-left, dust-gathering anti-gun, anti-liberty politicians, and when the Democrats have a majority, it puts those people in charge."

Tom Gresham, host of the radio show Gun Talk, recognizes that there are dire problems with the Republican Party. Still, he refuses to vote for a Democrat. "I am proud to be a single-issue voter, and I will not cast a vote to strengthen the party of Nancy Pelosi. Let's look at what it means when any politician says that it is okay to take away any of the gun rights of a law-abiding citizen. It means that they truly believe that we are too childlike to be trusted with those rights, and it means that their attitude of government is that it will protect us from any and every peril. Tangentially, it also means that they want all the power."

Of his choice of McCain for president, he says: "We all have reservations, I know. But in the long run, I don't really believe that a president can achieve world peace, or solve all of our environmental problems. But I do know that the president can stop the importation of all firearms, can make the cost of a federal firearms license be $10,000, can put OSHA in charge of firearms in the workplace, can empower the EPA to control lead. The president can do these things without any votes, without Congress. And (Obama) is the most anti-gun politician who has ever run for president. Now he is saying that he supports the Second Amendment, but he can support the Second Amendment and still ban guns."

Gresham says the Supreme Court, which could see the appointment of two new, lifelong justices during the next presidential administration, will be the real battleground. "The Heller decision is the most important decision on the Second Amendment ever made. And it was 5 to 4. With two justices possibly retiring during this next administration, we cannot afford to have them replaced by justices nominated by Obama, and confirmed by a Democratic Senate."

But there are other reasons that the gun vote will go to a Republican. Gun ownership is highest in rural areas, where self-sufficiency is regarded as a virtue, and the Republicans, despite all, have retained the cachet of being the party of boot-strappers. Hunting for meat is a prime example of self-sufficiency, and guns are a part of that sense of self-reliance. One does not give up guns simply because some people use them illegally and create fear and tragedy.

Many Americans value the Second Amendment for a very old reason: as a guarantee, not that tyranny will not happen, but that it can at least be opposed. They believe that the Second Amendment guarantees the existence of all the other amendments, and that, to paraphrase Machiavelli, an armed man is a citizen, and an unarmed man is a subject. That doesn't mean that an American who chooses to be unarmed is any less of a citizen, but if we lose the choice to be armed, we have more or less lost the value of our citizenship. Many gun owners find gun-control advocates naïve when they argue that guns are useless to fight tyranny in modern times. Today's America is not somehow exempt from the kind of oppression that has at times overtaken every other nation on earth, even our own. Gun-control backers act as if we have arrived at the end of history — as if there is far more to fear from an armed populace than there is from anything else that the future may hold.

The gun-rights advocates have their own contradictions, though. As a group, they have failed to explain why, if they despise government power, they consistently vote for a political party that has claimed government authority over decisions like abortion rights, religion, and marriage rights. Few gun-rights proponents address the attacks on civil rights made by the current Republican administration, or explain why those attacks shouldn't matter when it's time to endorse a Republican candidate for president. Although gun rights and social conservatism may appeal to the same kinds of people, they are actually two opposing ideas. To hold them both smacks of a citizen who does not really value liberty at all, but wants a government empowered to enforce his or her values on everyone else. How is this different from the way gun-control advocates want only their values respected?

Single-issue gun-rights voters are especially destructive when it comes to environmental issues. Year after year, Republican politicians swear allegiance to the Second Amendment, an act that costs them nothing, but guarantees the gun vote. Then they support measures to exploit, degrade, and even sell off the public lands and waters that hunters and fishermen depend on. Neither the NRA nor the gun voters themselves do anything to protest this. The gun vote has gone to anti-environment politicians for so long now that millions of non-hunting American no longer associate hunters with conservation, despite the fact that sportsmen have painstakingly restored wildlife and habitat, rivers and lands, with their gun and ammunition tax dollars, their license fees and waterfowl stamps. This will eventually backfire on gun owners — and on conservationists. In a society increasingly disconnected from nature and hunting, with places to shoot growing increasingly scarce, fewer citizens grow up in a traditional gun culture. That means fewer hunters will fund assets like the Federal Wildlife Refuge system, and fewer shooters will respond to future, inevitable challenges to the Second Amendment. 

It is not too late for a new vision, one as unique as the nation itself. If the Democratic Party would recognize the Second Amendment as the Supreme Court has interpreted it in the Heller decision, and reassure gun voters that the years of backdoor maneuvers to promote gun control are over, the Republican deadlock on the gun vote could eventually be broken. It seems a small price for the Democrats to pay. All they have to do is recognize the Constitution.