Democrats on Guns: It’s a Mystery

In the waning days of the Obama administration, it seems that gun control is the Democrats’ number one priority. President Obama bestirred himself to both deliver a speech and participate in a staged “town hall” on the issue of gun regulation, showing unusual energy by his standards. The White House issued an odd potpourri of gun initiatives, including some that are already law. The various Democratic campaign organizations (DNC, DSCC, DCCC) bombarded their email lists with fundraising appeals based on the purported need to stand up to the NRA. And this morning on Face the Nation, when Hillary Clinton ticked off the three principal points of her presidential campaign, the first was “raising people’s wages,” even though her policies (especially the importation of millions more unskilled workers) will bring wages down. The third was “keeping Americans safe.” The second was more gun control, even though we are living in a time of historically low homicide and violent crime rates.

I find this extremely puzzling. We have seen this movie before, and we know how it ends. The Democrats have died on the gun control hill a couple of times already. I understand demagoguing an issue, but don’t politicians generally try to demagogue issues that are popular?

Rasmussen Reports surveyed voters’ current mood on gun control on Friday, and it hasn’t changed: 45% want “stricter gun control laws,” while 50% don’t. (You get the feeling that for Democrats, it doesn’t really matter what the new laws are, or whether they will do any good. They just want more of them.) As for Obama’s most recent package of proposals, exhortations and executive orders, only 19% of voters–you have to admire their party loyalty!–think they will do anything to reduce mass shootings.

Sometimes politicians push issues that don’t have majority support because they perceive an intensity advantage–supporters may be less numerous, but they care more. But that isn’t true here: opponents of more gun regulations are at least as likely to vote on that issue as supporters of such measures.

I can think of only two explanations for the Democrats’ gun obsession. The first is that they perceive a danger of losing their base, and therefore are pushing an issue that their base believes in, even though it alienates most voters in the middle. If that’s right, it is a sign of desperation. The second is that their agenda is so exhausted that they literally can’t think of anything better to talk about. I think that might be it: what are Obama and Clinton going to give speeches about to fire up the troops, Obamacare? Immigration? The Iran deal? Unpopular as it is, gun control may be as good as they’ve got.