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 President? Don't 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 tolerated.

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?

Some Background

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 Dayton, 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 that 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 background checks 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 he did.

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 cost him 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 getting re-elected.

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 to vote 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 best.

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 about.

Disagree? Don't forget to flame me.
Or would you rather just go Home?

Copyright 2004, 2011, Robert M Brown, All Rights Reserved.