In the aftermath of the December 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it must have seemed obvious to Barack Obama that he needed to do something about gun control. He called it the worst day of his presidency, and became emotionally invested in leading reform of the nation’s gun laws. Perhaps he also was influenced by the memory of being trounced in a 2000 primary by Illinois First District Congressman Bobby Rush after Obama was widely criticized for missing a crucial State Senate vote on gun control. Whatever the mix of motives, President Obama began his second term with a clarion call to limit the availability of certain types of guns, especially for certain types of people.
That move has now blown up in his face with the political force of a .44 Magnum. Just look at what has happened since the president launched his crusade. Gun purchases have skyrocketed because people fear they are about to lose access to weapons, and roughly one in five buyers is purchasing a gun for the first time. Ammunition plants are operating around the clock, with demand running at record levels for every caliber and cartridge type. People are so eager to buy bullets that they are now congregating at some WalMart loading docks on the days when shipments are expected. It’s as though the government was urging citizens to buy guns, rather than get rid of them.
But that’s just the beginning of the fallout. Gun-control efforts have mobilized the right wing of the Republican Party, which was demoralized in the aftermath of Obama’s reelection victory. Unlike Obamacare or deficit spending, guns are an issue where the Right knows it can win. Meanwhile the Democratic Party has been split between the cosmopolitan types like Nancy Pelosi and the more mainstream players such as Harry Reid, who realized from day one that gun control wasn’t going anywhere. Reid knew that his party would have to defend a six-seat Senate majority in mid-term elections with seven incumbents hailing from states where Obama got barely 40% of the vote last time around, and gun control was likely to hurt each one of them.
There’s more. When’s the last time you heard anybody talking about the second-term mandate that voters handed the president in November? I’d say that pretty much evaporated when the Senate voted against what had become his signature gun-control initiative. And then there’s the troubling fact that 44% of Republicans and 27% of Independents now think, “In the next few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect our liberties.” The same poll found a third of Republicans and a quarter of Independents think that the truth about Sandy Hook is being hidden “to advance a political agenda.” If you don’t see the connection between those poll results and the president’s gun-control efforts, then you probably also don’t understand why “Duck Dynasty” has been renewed for another season on cable.
President Obama is reliving the experience of progressives who thought social evils could be cured by banning alcohol. Instead of making America a better place, they ended up promoting the behavior they were trying to control, leading to the most lawless decade in American history. You don’t have to love guns to see that a similar dynamic is unfolding today as a result of efforts to limit their ownership. Instead of continuing to prosecute this doomed crusade, undermining both his mandate and his majority in the Senate, President Obama needs to move on to more productive pursuits.
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