Political Animal


December 24, 2012 10:35 AM Bullet Vote

By Ed Kilgore

For what seems like the thousandth time, progressives are absorbed with figuring out why America’s gun laws are so toothless. Is it just the product of an atavistic culture? The power of the gun lobby? The grip of ideologues on the GOP? The gutlessness of the Democratic Party? Some “framing” problem? All of the above?

I do not entirely agree with the recent analysis of Steven Hill and Robert Richie in The Atlantic attributing most of the problem to the power of swing voters in gerrymandered districts, but at least they are advancing arguments that don’t rely too much on abnormal psychology or the belief that a different wording for policy positions can instantly move tens of millions of people.

[C]ontrol of the U.S. House of Representatives comes down to only about 35 districts — fewer than 10 percent of the 435 districts — every two years. That gives overwhelming power to undecided voters who live in these swing districts, many of which are rural and conservative-leaning. This set-up also gives enormous power to the NRA, because many NRA members live in these rural swing districts.

By their estimation, we have terrible gun laws because of a series of small factors that add up to a big conclusion: “bullet” voters (pun intended) opposing gun control or anything like it who happen to exercise disproportionate power in districts with disproportionate influence over the U.S. House.

That makes some sense, but (a) American gun politics have not necessarily tracked big fights over control of the House; and (b) the everything-depends-on-the-Blue-Dogs take on the House Democratic Caucus is about a decade out of date.

Sure, the superior voter-distribution efficiency of the GOP coalition, aggravated by Republican control of the last decennial redistricting cycle, means that it will take a sizable Democratic majority of the national House popular vote to flip control of that chamber. But aside from the fact that there’s a lot more to American politics than the partisan identity of the Speaker of the House, the steady decline of the Blue Dog Caucus means that Democrats are increasingly more likely to look somewhere other than the Deep South for marginal House seats to conquer. And if you look at the gun politics of the last couple of decades, what’s really changed is not the balance of power between the two parties, or even the power of the NRA in either party, but the increasingly unreasonable positioning of the gun lobby and a steady rightward drift in what is thought to divide “pro-” and “anti-” gun politicians. In particular, the belief that the Second Amendment is some sort of super-Amendment on which all other freedoms depend used to be the provenance of crazy people. Now it’s standard conservative rhetorical fare, even though it implies a Right of Revolution that conservative voters might be somewhat uncomfortable with if applied to anyone other than their own respectable selves. And it’s this sort of floodgates theory that is responsible for the adamant conservative opposition to even the more reasonable gun regulations, including those, like the assault weapons ban, that were recently in law with no tangible enslavement of hunters or anxious homeowners in high crime areas.

So for my money, you don’t need to deploy any particularly exotic hypotheses to explain a baleful trend on gun issues that has been apparent on many subjects where conservatives used to inhabit a similar mental neighborhood with the rest of us. Yes, it’s strange that conservatives think it makes more sense to militarize schools or radically restrict the rights of mental health patients than to maybe inhibit the possession of weapons whose sole purpose is to kill lots of people in a short period of time. But it’s no stranger on balance than the idea that tight money and cuts in government spending is the way out of a recession.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • toowearyforoutrage on December 24, 2012 10:57 AM:

    " the steady decline of the Blue Dog Caucus means that Democrats are increasingly more likely to look somewhere other than the Deep South for marginal House seats to conquer"

    Not the South.
    The West.

    Democrats start popping off on Gun Control and do you think Democrats elect ANYONE in Montana for the next 25 years? Likely turn Colorado from purple to red, and goodbye Nevada and New Mexico, it was fun while it lasted. Do we ever want to win Arkansas back with a Blanche Lincoln-type senator? This will nix that dream for a good long time. Democratic Texan Senator? Similar fantasy if gun control takes any serious hold of Democratic rhetoric. A 50 state strategy necessarily implies not throwing blue dogs under the bus. When the GOP decides to tack left on guns, there might be an opening, but pushing gun control is pure masochism for the foreseeable future.

    Feinstein may want to cater to her base, but no one else should talk about it unless you've grown tired of a Senate majority. There are winnable fights that remain and we won't get the chance to wage those battles if we plant our flag before there's at least a LITTLE GOP support for gun restrictions.

    Social Security is the Republican third rail.
    Guns are ours.

    Deal with it.

  • Christiaan Hofman on December 24, 2012 11:01 AM:

    ...the everything-depends-on-the-Blue-Dogs take on the House Democratic Caucus is about a decade out of date.

    That by itself is not necessarily an argument against this. Even though things have changed, Democrats still were (or are) thinking that proposing gun control would be a losing issue for them as well, which it may well have been a decade ago. They had internalized that "fact" for so long that they did not question that anymore. However, I noticed that after Newtown the left finally realizes that the situation has changed, and that the anti-gun-control crowd are people that will never vote for a Democrat anyway. So what is needed is not just that the situation changes, but also that Washington realizes this. And that's what is happening since Newtown.

  • RimKitty on December 24, 2012 12:08 PM:

    Here's something we could do. I know several gun owners, members of the NRA who absolutely think there should be more regulations. We need to hear from them, organize them, get them to do what one proud NRA member did after he heard LaPierre's speech....cut up his NRA card card and videotape it.

    Maybe we frame the issue a little differently. We want to regulate guns the same way we regulate harmful substances, or planes boats or automobiles, requiring some licensing, training and possibly insurance. No, it will not stop people from killing other people, but it can limit the possibility in a number of ways.

    However, the NRA and gun manufacturers could care less about your "right to bear arms", except that they make billions from that particular part of our freedoms. If they weren't making a ton of money, they would not have come up with the suggestion that we need more guns after seeing 20 children killed. Selfish bastards.

  • c u n d gulag on December 24, 2012 1:51 PM:

    This out-of-control NRA marketed and fueled gun mania seems like it's been around forever, but it's really of a more recent vintage.

    And the NRA only became political fairly recently. The first President they ever endorsed?
    No one should be surprised when I tell you, it was Ronald Reagan, over Jimmy Carter, in 1980.

    It still seems stunning to me, almost at age 55, that it wasn't until the late 70's, that the NRA went from being an organization that taught and advocated gun safety, to wanting everybody in the country to be packing weapons at all times
    In other words, it was then that the NRA got taken over by marketers, who were working for gun and ammo manufacturers.
    And it's gotten so bad, that even people on terror watch-lists aren't forbidden from buying arms, if they're smart enough to go to a gun-show.

    Maybe Newtown may help to sway people a bit away from the NRA. Wayne LaPierre's bizaro performances in the past few days, did little to endear him to Americans - except those who are aleady in the trall of the NRA.

    But, until a majority of gun owners take back the NRA from the marketers and gun and ammo manufactureres, there's no political will in DC to work to resolve this issue - even if it is of fairly recent vintage. Democrats are totally afraid, and rightfully so, of crossing what is now one of the, if not THE, most powerful lobbying groups in the country.

    In the meantime, "Newtown" may come to my town, your town, or any town, at any time.

  • Rich on December 24, 2012 1:57 PM:

    The flip side of this that gun control advocates never built strong coalitions that included broad representation of non-NRA gun owners and law enforcement. Instead it's always been the usual elitist blu noses who've screwed- up every other progressive cause by not engaging grassroots or understanding the phenom of interest. This sort of thing goes back to Prohibition, if not further and is the lefty counterpart to righteous nh astroturfumg except more of us should be recognizing it as a problem.

  • jjm on December 24, 2012 1:58 PM:

    The horror of each such tragedy is infinitely increased because gun manufacturers apparently see it as an opportunity to sell more guns: each unthinkable event is just free advertising for them, so to speak. "Wow! Just look at how efficient and effective our guns are!! Twenty-six in one blow!!" Buy now!

    It's despicable.

    How about a different and better unthinkable event? Repeal the second amendment!


  • Doug on December 24, 2012 9:10 PM:

    Personally, considering that the Federal government has the power of taxation, I see nothing wrong with placing a very, very large excise tax (500%?) on the purchase of automatic weaponry AND the ammunition used in those weapons with said excise tax to be collected at the point of sale.
    Then add a minimum of a $100,000 fine for any seller who doesn't remit the tax, than send a few ATC people to some gun shows. If someone really wants to own a gun that can only be used to kill people, let 'em pay through the nose for it.

    captcha: "anutsir his". Well said, sir, well said.