Democrats are fleeing from the gun-control issue, which many believe helped cause Al Gore’s defeat in the 2000 presidential election.
Not only are the leading Democratic presidential contenders avoiding the issue-except front-runner Howard Dean, who talks up his endorsement by the NRA as Vermont’s governor-but so, too, are state-level Democrats.
Chris Cox, chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said that though many state and local Democrats have long been pro-gun rights, there has been a big shift in recent years. “In 2002, the political arm of the NRA had its best year ever,” he said. “Eighty-two per cent of NRA-endorsed state candidates won, 84% of our U.S. Senate candidates won, and 94% of our congressional candidates won. We even had to inform our members about the gun control records of some Democratic candidates such as [U.S. Senate candidates] Jean Carnahan in Missouri and Max Cleland in Georgia because they stopped talking about the issue.”
The pro-gun stands of winning Democratic senatorial candidate Mark Pryor in Arkansas, and gubernatorial candidate Mark Warner (elected in 2001) in otherwise solidly Republican Virginia, were widely credited with being keys to their victories.
This month’s off-year election is looking good for gun rights, too. “In the three most-watched governors’ races-Louisiana, Mississippi, and Kentucky-the Republican candidate is running as a strong and vocal supporter of the 2nd Amendment and the Democratic candidate is running as a strong and vocal supporter of the 2nd Amendment,” said Cox.
Joe Waldron, executive director of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, listed seven states that passed major pro-gun laws since the 2002 elections that had bipartisan legislative support and were signed by Democratic governors: Arizona (a reciprocity law that recognizes other states’ concealed carry licenses), Delaware (reciprocity), New Mexico (concealed carry law), North Carolina (reciprocity), Oklahoma (reciprocity), Tennessee (reciprocity), and Virginia (a law preempting local gun control laws).
The Missouri legislature overrode the veto of concealed carry legislation by Democratic Gov. Bob Holden, said Waldron, and, in Wisconsin, six of 15 Democratic state senators voted for a concealed carry law despite Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s veto threat. A Democratic State Representative, Eric Croft, sponsored Alaska’s new law granting residents the right to carry concealed weapons without a permit.
But, said Waldron, Democrats have supported or at least acquiesced in passing pro-gun legislation mostly “in Southern and Western states.” Democrats in states such as Massachusetts continue to pursue their anti-2nd Amendment agendas, he said. At the same time, California is the only state in which gun rights supporters are currently being routed, he said.
The “gun swing” voters tend to be in swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida-where a few tens of thousands of votes can change the outcome of a presidential election. Some of these voters are what Democratic pollster Celinda Lake has dubbed “NASCAR dads”-culturally conservative rural white men who might vote for Democrats who are perceived the way Pryor succeeded in portraying himself. Pryor told a Democratic Leadership Council conference-entitled “God, Guns and Guts: Seizing the Cultural Center”-that he combated the stereotype “that if a candidate has a D by his name, that candidate must be godless, must be soft on military issues, probably unpatriotic, and also is absolutely determined to take people’s guns away.”