This is the second part of my “How We Got Here” here series. You can read part one here. The first series covered the cultural reasons we find ourselves in the present situation. While the cultural situation goes in-part with the political situation, the two are distinct enough I thought they warranted separate posts.
The gun movement went into the 1990s weak. Despite having won a major overhaul of the Gun Control Act in 1986, the movement suffered a number of setbacks on the cultural front and suffered from internal divisions. It emerged out of the 1990s much stronger and more unified, in large part because of spending most of the decade under unrelenting attack. But being attacked has a way of sharpening people’s focus, and giving them clarity. Bill Clinton acknowledged the assault weapons ban cost him Congress. The Democrats believed, with merit, that Al Gore lost in part because of his calls for even more draconian gun control. Then John Kerry, despite actually being a lifelong hunter (though in favor of gun control), became the dog that don’t hunt. The 2004 victory convinced many Democrats that gun control was a lost cause and a losing issue.
The Democrats would crawl their way back to a majority in 2006 using the Blue Dog strategy; the idea of running candidates that were suited for their local districts, which included being pro-gun if that was a necessary factor. The Democratic takeover in 2006 did not become an immediate harbinger of gun control because the progressives had Blue Dogs at the right flank of their majority that needed protection. As long as this was the case, progressives were going to lay off gun control. The Heller victory only added to the momentum. I think the Blue Dog strategy would have held, and been a viable means of keeping their majority. But then came the 2008 elections.
I think not turning out for McCain was probably the biggest mistake gun owners have ever made politically. Was McCain with us 100%? No. But he was consistent with where he wasn’t with us and as much as I might have disagreed with his stance on private sales and gun shows, he was far and away better than Mitt Romney. McCain has consistently opposed gun bans. McCain’s defeat got us Mitt Romney in 2012, and it also got us Barack Obama, who is indeed the transformative figure he claimed to be. McCain’s defeat also ensured that we failed to pick up two more votes for the Second Amendment on the Supreme Court.
The first act of Barack Obama was not gun control. In fact, Obama signed two easements of gun control, though they were attached to “must pass” pieces of legislation. We achieved this because the Blue Dog strategy was working for us. With a Democratic Congress, we were getting around an anti-gun Democratic President. But unfortunately, Obama decided to start spending the country into bankruptcy, decided that the middle of all this debt, coupled with a financial crisis, it was a great time to ram a massive new, and highly unpopular entitlement through Congress. This pissed off enough people that the Blue Dog strategy was doomed, an outcome I think the President was fine with as long as he got his bill. In 2010, despite NRA endorsements for many pro-gun Democrats, most of them got taken down on other issues. Harry Reid didn’t receive an endorsement, despite helping us legislatively, largely because of pressure from members who were angry at Democrats for reasons completely unrelated to guns. The tidal wave that came crashing down on Blue Dogs was beyond NRA’s ability to stop. Obama had eaten the Blue Dogs to get health care.
After 2010, with Blue Dogs an endangered species, the dynamic changed, but not greatly. We suddenly ran into trouble getting pro-gun legislation through the Senate, but that was it. We still did not see gun control because Obama was well aware of our political clout, and he would soon face re-election. The 2012 election was a watershed event because not only did Obama win re-election, but he won with a coalition that was composed mostly of the progressive left. He didn’t need moderates anymore. With the Blue Dog Democrats largely extinct, Obama was, and is, counting on having built a winning progressive-left coalition that can openly embrace gun control and not have to fear NRA at the polls. But is Obama correct?
Well, Bill Clinton, whose political instincts I think are keener than Obama’s, certainly isn’t sure. If NRA was weakened, it was weakened by politicians largely ignoring the gun issue, and also by having two lackluster candidates (on guns, at least) at the top of the ticket the last two elections. There wasn’t a whole lot of reasons for gun owners to get excited, or worried, until now. But is Obama only awakening a sleeping giant? It’s my opinion that he is, and he might be crazy, but is he crazy like a fox?
If more Democrats vote with us in this current struggle, but lose anyway, well, that’s just another example that NRA is useless at protecting pro-gun Democrats. I don’t think Obama would object to that narrative. If more Democrats vote with us and win, well, he wins there too because his party’s majority might hold in the Senate. If he gets a few Republicans to join him on gun control? Those Republicans will be weakened by it. Win there too. If Republicans block all his measures? He’ll use that issue in swing districts in 2014 to try to pick up some house seats current occupied by GOP reps in Democratic leaning, liberal districts. Pressing the issue is easier when there’s money behind it, and many of us are about to find out for the first time what happens when there is.
Obama is betting his coalition will, long term, drive Democratic left-wing majorities that don’t have to give a crap about what the rednecks and rubes in flyover country think. The Blue Dog strategy is dead, and we are reliant on the Republicans to protect our rights. We would have been far better off with a bipartisan consensus on this issue, and I think it was within reach, but in the age of Barack Obama, it wasn’t going to be possible. Ultimately, we are here because the Blue Dog strategy was not going to work for where Barack Obama wants to take America, so he laid waste to it and then won re-election. Gun rights is the only coalition Barack Obama and his machine have not really tangled with seriously. Will he beat us too? That remains to be seen, and largely depends on us.