Democrats to Charge Gun Control Hill Again

One aspect of the Democrats’ convention that we haven’t commented on is that gun control was front and center. The Associated Press headlines: “Clinton, Dems put gun control at center of convention stage.”

With mothers of police violence victims on the stage and anti-gun protesters in the streets, Hillary Clinton and Democrats are giving gun control and efforts to curb police violence a starring role at their summer convention.
Clinton has made gun safety one of the foundations of her presidential campaign, vowing to overcome the legendary resistance of gun-rights advocates and their GOP allies to push for expanded criminal background checks and a renewal of a ban on assault weapons.

More gun control has never been a winning issue for the Democrats–not on the national stage, anyway. It recent years it has been used mostly as a means of whipping up the Democrats’ base, but conventions are staged for a broader audience, and I take seriously Hillary’s statements to the effect that it is a key part of her agenda. Apparently the Democrats are heartened by recent polls indicating that support for anti-gun measures is growing. This shouldn’t be surprising, given the extraordinary publicity accorded to every “shooter” incident.

But is more gun control now a winning issue for the Democrats? I doubt it, for a couple of reasons.

First, they don’t have any plausible proposals. “Universal background checks” are fine as a sound byte, but no one seriously thinks that imposing such a requirement on people who are not firearms dealers will have any impact whatsoever on crime or terrorism. Similarly, “assault weapons,” a category that exists only in the realm of political fantasy, are used in a vanishingly small number of crimes. They were banned for ten years, and the effect was zero; therefore, the ban expired. The Democrats might as well agitate for reinstating Prohibition. Do Democrats learn from experience? Apparently not. We would all like to see fewer murders, but it is hard to get traction with a political issue when you have nothing constructive to say about it.

Second, the Democrats face, as always, a substantial intensity gap. Support for more gun control is perhaps widespread, but is also soft, especially given that the Democrats have no practical proposals to offer. Opposition to more gun control, on the other hand, may be more narrow, but it is far more intense. This calculus hasn’t changed much; while there are fewer rural gun owners than there were a couple of decades ago, due to the decline in rural population, there are more urban and suburban gun owners.

I suspect that the Democrats suffer from the Pauline Kael syndrome: everyone they know wants to ban guns, so how can it possibly be a losing political issue? In November, maybe they will find out.