5/06 Foxes In The Hen House

Foxes In The Henhouse:
Just Listen to Our Words, Don’t Watch What We Do
Larry Pratt

Foxes in the Henhouse is a book of advice to the Democratic Party by Steve Jarding and Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, the authors of Democrat Mark Warner’s 2001 winning campaign for governor of Virginia.

The Warner campaign sponsored a NASCAR driver (for one race), created a pro-Warner bluegrass tune and did not treat Virginia’s 223,931 licensed hunters and 403,277 licensed fishermen as moral lepers. Those decisions, plus Warner’s willingness to invest his own $200 million fortune on his campaign and Republican incompetence, won Warner the governorship.

Gun Owners of America is nonpartisan and I would frankly welcome a sincere competition for the votes of gun owners by candidates of every political party.

But a sincere competition, or even a factually accurate campaign for our votes, is not quite what Jarding and Saunders are interested in waging. They treat the Second Amendment right to bear arms as a mere marketing problem for Democrats.

They note, correctly, that “the negative publicity on guns gotten by, for example, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, and John Kerry has tended to hurt down-ballot Democrats on the gun issue.”

Senator H.L. Richardson, the founder and chairman of Gun Owners of America, exposed the radical Dukakis agenda for Reader’s Digest, America’s most-read magazine, in 1988.

The NRA’s November, 1988, American Rifleman cover carried a single Dukakis quote: “I do not believe in people owning guns. Guns should be owned only by [the] police and military. I am going to do everything I can to disarm this state.”

Time Magazine began a February 7, 2000, article on Al Gore this way:

    When it comes to iconic campaign images, it is hard to beat the moment, a month after the tragedy at Columbine High, when Al Gore strode into the Republican Senate, commandeered the ivory gavel and broke a tie to require background checks on people who buy weapons at gun shows. It was, he declared, “a turning point for our country.”

For all John Kerry’s public hunting, most Americans suspected that even his bird call had a French accent and that he might seek the permission of the United Nations before actually shooting anything.

Just as the troubles of General Motors will reflect badly upon your local Chevrolet dealer, Democratic candidates will suffer so long as the top of the Democratic ticket treats the Second Amendment as a dead letter every four years.

The authors of Foxes in the Henhouse recommend that Democrats “should push to have gun laws and rules decided by states and not the federal government.” They also urge Democratic candidates to argue that “enforcement of existing laws would solve virtually all our concerns about guns.”

This advice is hardly revolutionary. Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) suggested the same thing in his 1992 book, Speaking Frankly. The Boston Globe reported last December that Democratic Party leaders are already saying similar things:

    Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, who had been a critic of some forms of gun control during his tenure as governor of Vermont, has urged candidates to view gun control laws as state issues, allowing those in rural states to reflect the values of hunters and others hostile to gun control, while supporting restrictions in urban areas with serious crime problems.

A reasonable question that all these smart political strategists avoid is that places where civilian gun ownership is all but legally impossible blame their dangerous streets and terrified citizens upon weaker gun laws anywhere else. One essential tenet of the gun control catechism is that gun control only works if it is universal.

Another problem the authors avoid is that a candidate elected upon this “enforce existing gun laws platform” will do nothing to roll back the many unreasonable gun laws already on the books.

Remarkably, Virginia Gov. John Warner signed every pro-gun piece of legislation that came before during his four-year tenure. But his successor has demonstrated the old school kind of “lip service” that makes so many people skeptical of politicians.

The new governor, Tim Kaine, actively sought the gun vote in 2005. He even held a press conference on a skeet shooting range, and proclaimed “I’m committed to not violating the Second Amendment or infringing upon the gun rights of law-abiding citizens.”

But this year, Kaine went back on his promises after the Virginia legislature passed a bill allowing people to keep a firearm locked in their car glove compartment without obtaining a concealed-carry permit. Kaine vetoed it, claiming there were public safety concerns.

In November, gun owners will be asked to once again choose our representatives in Congress. I expect many press conferences at hunting lodges and shooting ranges this summer. Candidates will talk of their love of the outdoors. Perhaps their orange vests will not be fresh out of the box.

But just because a politician says he likes to hunt, or that he owns a firearm, does not mean he has any interest in protecting your right to hunt or your right to own the firearms of your choice. Pro-gun talk is cheap. Pro-gun actions are valuable.