12/00 The Polls Do Not Say Guns Hurt Republicans

The Polls Do Not Say Guns Hurt Republicans
Larry Pratt

The conventional wisdom has it that most Americans want more gun control according to public opinion polls. Thus, any politician that knows what he is doing will either push for gun control if he favors it, or try to avoid the issue if he opposes gun control.

This conventional wisdom provided the paradigm for the last six years in Congress. But how strange is this conventional wisdom.

The firearms issue, according to no less a political expert than President Clinton himself, cost Democrats their control of Congress in the 1994 elections. The power of this issue — in spite of the contrary indication of public opinion polls — should have encouraged the Republicans to showcase Second Amendment votes in order to further reduce Democratic congressional representation in the 1996 elections.

Instead, Republicans did all they could to avoid voting on guns and in fact they lost some ground in the 1996 elections. There have been very few pro-Second Amendment votes, such as when Rep. Steve Stockman forced a successful vote on repealing the semi-auto ban. The vote had been opposed by the Republican leadership in the House, and in the Senate, the Republican leadership made sure that the matter never saw the light of day.

In the next four years many Republicans actually voted for gun control, including the Lautenburg gun ban and the Kohl school zone gun ban — two measures that actually were passed into law.

Had the members of Gun Owners of America not been so willing to tirelessly oppose Sen. Orrin Hatch’s anti-gun Juvenile Justice bill — with no help from other pro-gun groups in Washington — there would have been still more anti-self defense legislation enacted by a Republican Congress.

This explains why the pro-gun state of Pennsylvania, which went for Bush, Sr. in 1988, was not available for George W. in 2000. In fact, it was President Bush’s administration that banned the importation of semi-auto firearms. No wonder he lost Pennsylvania in 1992 — and lost his bid for reelection.

The firearms issue should have been able to carry Wisconsin where in 1998 an amendment modeled after the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was approved three to one by the state’s voters. Similarly, Michigan, with a Republican Senator and Governor, should have been able to vote for George W as well. But W narrowly lost Wisconsin, as well as Michigan. Indeed, Senator Spencer Abraham lost his bid for reelection after having voted repeatedly against the Second Amendment.

A close election such as the 2000 presidential contest was tailor made for the firearms issue to push the Republicans over the top, win the presidency and enlarge their margin in Congress. Having done nothing to reassure liberty-minded voters of Republican allegiance, Republicans found little allegiance from pro-gun voters.

Corroboration for my argument was provided by the increasing desire on the part of Democrats, led by Vice President Gore, to back away during the campaign from the issue and try to sound pro-gun without actually repudiating his extreme anti-self defense views.