This was written for the
2004 election. Some of the names are different this time
around, but the issues remain the same.
The Politics of Gun Control
Robert M Brown
I'm a gun owner, and I support John Kerry for President. Not just
any gun owner, either, but a heterosexual white male, who owns
non-politically correct guns like the SKS, and a Chinese AK-47
knock-off. Some people feel that this makes me a traitor, a fool,
and possibly some form of mutant. How can a gun owner support a Democrat for
I know that Kerry will come and take all my guns away?
As the political parties become more polarized it is now often assumed
that if you support a particular party or candidate you must buy into
ALL of that party's positions, on every issue. Exceptions are not
Unfortunately the world is more complicated than that. Not
everyone's opinions can be neatly divided into two mutually exclusive
camps. Gun control is only one example.
The conventional wisdom is that supporting a Democratic Presidential
candidate is the same as supporting gun control. That any
Democratic President will make it his top priority to take away your
guns, but a Republican President is your best friend and will always do
his best to preserve your Second Amendment rights.
Even a casual examination of the facts shows some problems with this
theory. Let's look, shall we?
The modern generation of gun control laws began with the Reagan
Administration, in 1986. The Firearms Owners' Protection Act was
passed in that year, expanding
on the Gun Control Act of 1968. One provision of
this law was to freeze the number of fully-automatic machineguns in
circulation; machineguns manufactured since 1986 cannot be legally
owned by civilians. (Machineguns manufactured before that date are
legal to own, as they have been since 1934, with a special tax stamp
and BATF approval of each transfer of ownership.) Since 1934 only
one crime as been committed with a legally owned machinegun. (A
Ohio police officer used a submachine gun to kill an informant.) The
primary effect of this law was to raise the price of existing
machineguns to astronomical levels.
Several models of 'assault' shotgun were also banned from import in
year. (Do not assume,
by the way, that domestic gun manufacturers are your friends. Yes, they
want you to be able to buy guns. . . but their guns.
Restrictions on imported firearms usually have at least the quiet
support of domestic gun manufacturers, and sometimes more than
that. They were very vocal in the 1960s, when cheap foreign
imports were seriously undercutting their business.)
Three years later, the Administration of Bush the Elder banned from
import 43 models of military-style semi-automatic rifles. The
value of those
rifles already in the country rose dramatically. This was not
legislation, subject to Congressional debate and compromise; it
was an Executive Order, straight from George H.W. Bush's pen. Which
means that George W. Bush could do away with the import
restrictions the same way, if he cared to do so.
The Reagan and Bush legislation and Executive Orders laid the
groundwork for 1994, the big year for modern gun control
legislation. That was the year of the Brady Act, with mandatory
for handgun buyers, an expansion of Bush's Executive Order import ban,
and the Federal Violent Crime Control Act, better known as 'The Assault
Rifle Ban.' This is the one that scared a lot of people.
The 1994 Ban basically applied the restrictions on imported rifles to
domestically manufactured ones. It limited magazine capacity, and
other 'unwholesome' features, such as adjustable stocks and
bayonets. Panicky gun-owners, fearing that this was the first
step towards a more comprehensive ban, bought up both 'post-ban' and
the more aesthetically pleasing, but functionally identical, 'pre-ban'
rifles in great numbers. (In a situation of fixed supply, and
increasing demand, the prices of the older 'pre-ban' rifles shot up
dramatically. Are you noticing a trend here?) President
Clinton gained the informal title of Greatest Gun Salesman in History.
One of the compromises made in getting the '94 Ban passed was a sunset
clause. The idea was to try it for ten years and see if the
legislation made any difference in crime. If it did, it could be
renewed. If not, it would automatically disappear. President Bush has
said he would sign a renewal of The Ban, but so far
no such renewal has made it out of Congress.
While many gun owners were running scared in 1994, the political
climate was changing. Spectacular headlines had driven the new
legislation, but the attention span of the general public is short, and
the memory of single-issue voters is long. The Democratic Party
paid a heavy price for 1994's gun control legislation: Sixty two
Congressional seats. That's what they lost in the mid-term
election that year.
There was no significant gun control legislation passed for the
remaining six years of the Clinton Presidency. In 1998 the five
day waiting period for handgun purchases mandated by the Brady
Act was replaced with an instant background check system.
Things were changing at the state level as well. While the
Federal government was responding in its own way to the perception that
violent crime was out of control, some states were taking a different
approach. Starting with Florida in 1987 state legislatures began
passing more liberal conceal carry laws, putting the ability to legally
carry a gun within the reach of the average citizen.
In 1993 Texas Governor Ann Richards stood firmly against any concealed
carry law, even vetoing a bill calling for a public referendum on the
subject. Richards didn't let the people speak on concealed carry
legislation then, but they had their turn in 1994. George W.
Bush, obscure son of a former president, a baseball team owner with no
previous political experience, said that he'd sign a concealed carry
bill if HE were governor. . . and a few months later he was. And
In the 2000 Presidential campaign Bill Clinton was safe from the gun
owners' wrath, but Al Gore wasn't. The Clinton Administration's
gun control legacy, and his own pro-gun control positions, probably
Arkansas, West Virginia, and possibly Tennessee. Florida aside,
gun control cost Gore the election.
Gun control has not been good for the Democratic Party. And the
Democratic Party knows it.
A fanatical fringe in the Democratic Party is for as much gun control
as they can get, just as they have been for years. But the rest
of the party isn't listening. Politicians want to get elected,
and re-elected, and everything else is secondary. It is a very
rare politician who will take an unpopular stand, even at the cost of
This cuts both ways. President Bush has said that he will sign a
renewed 'Assault Weapon' ban. Republican Presidents in the past
have passed their share of gun control. Neither party's hands are
clean. You cannot count on a Republican President to work
to preserve your rights, simply because he is a Republican. The
record shows that he won't.
The problem with being a single issue voter is that one party typically
ends up 'owning' your vote. They don't have to actually do anything to
further your pet
agenda. They know you're not going
for the other guys, so why should they? The single issue voter
finds himself in the
position of a woman married to a lazy, worthless husband who she is
nevertheless afraid to leave.
While I consider the Second Amendment and the right of self defense to
be important, I cannot ignore the other freedoms that we as Americans
enjoy, and other issues of public policy. I support political
candidates based on their whole platform, who they are, and who their
opponent is. Sometimes compromise is necessary. Retaining
the right to own firearms is of little use to you if you have lost the
right of free speech, lost the right to be secure from unreasonable
searches, and have lost your job and cannot afford to buy any
guns. The right to keep and bear arms an important freedom, but
it is not the ONLY important freedom.
Thus, I refuse to be locked in to any political party. My vote
goes to the candidate I think is most deserving in that particular
race. I am not going to detail the failings of President Bush in
this space. That has been done very thoroughly elsewhere and
there is no need for me to go over it again. Suffice it to say
that he has had his chance, and he did not impress me.
Kerry is not my ideal candidate. He is a career politician, which
by definition means that he is self-serving and untrustworthy. If
what he says has any bearing on what he really thinks, it is purely a
coincidence. That is the nature of the breed. But many of
the things Kerry claims to be for, I agree with. I'm willing to
give him a chance; we've seen the alternative and I don't think another
four years is going to change that
for the better.
Down The Road
It is much harder to get a new law signed than it is to prevent the
passage of that law. A new law must be passed by both houses of
Congress, then approved by the President. A minimum of three
critical steps, and a failure at any point means the law will never see
the light of day. Preserving the Second Amendment is a defensive
fight, which means that it is not necessary to be strong in all three
places. Remember that the last six years of the Clinton
presidency saw no new gun control legislation. The key is
Congress. Specifically, the House. Representatives must
stand for election every two years, so they are much more sensitive
to pressure from the folks back home than Senators, who only have
to face their constituents every six years.
Don't fall into the single issue voter trap of passing over a good
candidate just because he isn't strong on your pet issue. It's a
complex, imperfect world and sometimes we have to make do. Vote
for the person
you think is best suited to do the whole
job, and hope for the
But keep your eye on the House, because you really can't trust any
politicians. Which, after all, is what the Bill of Rights is all
Disagree? Don't forget to flame
Or would you rather just go Home?