Over the years, there’s been a lot of talk about how the National Rifle Association is just way too powerful, how it buys up politicians and makes it impossible to enact “common-sense gun reform” at the federal level. For many of us, this is just a trigger to roll our eyes. We all know the NRA isn’t “buying” anyone, at least not any more than Bloomberg-backed groups are buying anti-gun politicians. Probably less so.
The reason the NRA is powerful, though, is because they ultimately represent millions of gun owners’ voices, even if they’re not necessarily members of the organization.
Right about now, though, a lot of anti-gun voices are declaring that the embattled NRA is weakening and that this represents a golden opportunity for them.
That’s why Joe Biden apparently felt so confident going toe-to-toe with a Detroit autoworker on the topic of guns. This is supposedly their time.
Biden’s assertive posture on guns recalls the 2000 election. And this worries Democrats.
In 2000, the Democrat Party Platform celebrated Al Gore’s record of standing up to the NRA, the legislative successes of the Clinton administration, namely the Brady Bill and the Assault Weapons Ban, and called for mandatory gun locks and a host of federal programs regulating gun purchases.
Al Gore lost. Democrat leaders attributed the loss in part to gun owners support for George W. Bush, especially in states Gore was defeated including his home state of Tennessee. Public opinion surveys showed Bush won a historically large share of the gun owners vote – 66%, only Bush senior in 1988 attracted a greater proportion – 68%. To win elections, centrists Democratic strategists, concluded “Democrats need to reason with gun owners rather than insult them.”
Gun owners have long been a reliable GOP voting bloc. The General Social Surveys demonstrate that in 10 of the last 12 presidential elections, a majority of gun owners supported Republican candidates. Even when the nation supported a Democrat, gun owners typically remained loyal to Republicans. And in 2016, Donald Trump garnered over 60% of gun owners, which was the largest share since Bush in 2004. In the 2018 midterms, 61% of gun owners voted for Republican candidates compared to just 26% of non-owners, a 35-point gap.
This is not a small or insignificant political group. Opinion surveys estimate a third to 40% of households have a gun. That percentage increases notably among the all-important rural voting population. Moreover, in several key swing states gun owners comprise a substantial proportion of voters, including Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, and Wisconsin. As Democrats remember, in a tight election, gun owners’ vote can be decisive.
Of course, the article goes on to repeat the claim that attitudes on guns are shifting.
And, to be fair, they probably were. After all, the media has played up ever mass shooting and bombarded people with talking heads all regurgitating the same solutions to the point that it starts to have an impact. Even on gun owners.
But up to a point.
While some gun owners have been swayed by things like red flag laws or universal background checks, they’re only swayed in the abstract. Sure, they sound good on the surface. The problem is that the nuts and bolts are usually more of an issue. Universal background check measures have been defeated in several states despite polling showing their popularity. The reason? People find out that it covers much more than they thought.
At that point, they hit the eject button and vote against the measures.
Where Biden and the Democrats need to worry is that Biden’s not talking about closing loopholes that don’t really exist or supposedly trying to curb mass shootings with laws that aren’t really needed.
No, Biden is talking gun bans. He wants to ban the most popular firearm in the country because it makes him squeamish or whatever.
The problem is, once you ban a category of guns, what’s to stop lawmakers from going after another category? Then another? Then another?
Let’s be honest, a lot of gun owners are looking at that and thinking about how that doesn’t sound like such a good thing. That’s likely to hurt Biden in the long run.
Regardless, gun owners are likely to make a difference this year as they do most years.