Why Obama's Gun Control Proposals Already Seem Poised To Fail
After weeks of working with New York Gov. Michael Bloomberg, Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and others behind closed doors to draft an anti-gun wish list, Vice President Joe Biden is going to meet with the National Rifle Association (NRA) and a variety of other gun groups, a few victims of gun violence, video-game industry representatives and more this week. “Soon after” those meetings, according to the White House, Biden will give his task force’s recommendations to President Barack Obama. The Obama administration will then release a broad range of proposals as the first bombardment in a political battle to make them the law of the land.
No wait, that’s not quite right. The political offensive has already begun, as last-minute meetings with gun-rights groups, victims of criminals and more just before handing recommendations to the president is clearly a political maneuver. This strategy is surely designed to give the president cover to say his administration worked with everyone to come up with the best policy proposals possible as he nevertheless drops an anti-gun-rights salvo on Congress.
Clearly the Obama administration is of the opinion that when you have an emotion-based agenda you can’t allow time to pass lest reason might intervene. They’re hoping to overcome gun owners with an emotional assault when they should be bringing various parties to sensible agreements.
Now, though such a strategy seems likely to get Obama’s base in a mood to attach bayonets, it’s a poor plan.
First of all, politicians who support American’s right to bear arms are sure to deliberatively slow down one-sided gun-control legislation, as they should. This will give reason a chance to intervene. On CBS’ “Face the Nation” last Sunday Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said as much. “Clearly we will not be addressing [the gun] issue early, because spending and debt are going to dominate the first three months,” McConnell said.
Secondly, if the Obama administration’s proposals are anything like what Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) says her enhanced version of the 1994 Assault-Weapons Ban will look like, then it’s likely to get blown apart on the statist road to gun-owner registries, lists of banned guns and firearms databases—all things the president has said he wants.
Then there is the fact that, as sources tell me, there is still a clear bi-partisan majority in both houses of Congress supporting the Second Amendment. America’s gun owners are also well organized and politically active—in the face of such an attack they’d need to, and surely would, join and support the NRA, as NRA membership typically rises in adverse times.
To overcome all this President Obama will, as he’s done in other fights, use a populist-style campaign in an attempt to use public opinion to pound legislators into abandoning their stated principals. The problem for Obama will be that the American people cherish their right to bear arms—more are against gun-bans than for them.
To put this into perspective consider that, as of December 27, Gallup found that 54 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the NRA (38 percent unfavorable); meanwhile, across the country there are an estimated 100 million gun owners; more than eight million people have concealed-carry permits; about four million people are members of the NRA; and, according to Gallup, 47 percent of American households have guns in them; in fact, from 2009 to today the number of Democrats with guns in their homes rose from 30 percent to 40 percent.
To put this in more human terms, consider that as this is being debated, Americans continue to use guns to protect themselves. For example, on January 5 a Georgia mother of two retreated to a closet in her home as an intruder kicked in her front door. Police were on the way, but they didn’t get there fast enough. When the intruder opened the closet door where the mother was hiding with her children she used her handgun to shoot the burglar. She then escaped with her children. This mother proved once again that gun rights are women’s rights—the Second Amendment is also about equality.
That’s the fundamental freedom at stake in this debate and it shows one fundamental reason why so many Americans “cling” to their guns. It’s also something the president hasn’t shown he understands.
With all that in context, shouldn’t the Obama administration be working with the NRA and more to actually find common ground? And not just with superficial gestures either, but with real discussion leading to legislation. The safety of the American people hangs in the balance. Instead of treating gun owners as the opposition, President Obama should acknowledge that gun owners are also parents and grandparents who want schools and streets to be safe. For starters, his administration could take up the NRA on “The National School Shield” proposal to put a cop in every school; this is something Democrats have embraced before.
Remember President Bill Clinton’s “COPS in Schools” program? In 1998 Clinton established a $60 million grant program from the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). Clinton explained at the time: “This initiative provides communities with a new tool to tackle crime and violence in our schools.”
COPS was established through a provision in the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. Since 1994 COPS has provided more than $11 billion in assistance to state and local law-enforcement agencies. According to the U.S. Department of Justice by May of 1999 COPS had funded more than “100,000 new community policing professionals” nationwide. However, after cuts in 2005, COPS stopped funding law-enforcement in schools.
Back in 1999 Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)—hardly a friend of the NRA—even supported the program. A press release still on her website says, “Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) today announced that the San Francisco Police Department will receive $3.25 million to pay for 26 additional police officers under the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS program.”
In 2004, over in the U.S. Senate, Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was also happy to get money from COPS. A press release on his website says, “US Senator Charles Schumer, author of the 1994 Crime Bill, today announced that several New York school districts will receive $125,000 federal grants under the bill’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program.”
Now Rep. Pelosi says, “For the NRA and others to sort of shield themselves by saying it’s the mentally ill or something and therefore we have to have more armed cops in the schools or more guns in the school, it just doesn’t make sense.” Meanwhile, Sen. Schumer doesn’t have anything good to say about the NRA.
Nevertheless, President Obama, who has often said he’d like to hire more teachers, police officers and other public-sector workers, has indicated he isn’t taking the NRA’s proposal seriously. President Obama said on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “I am skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools. And I think the vast majority of the American people are skeptical that that somehow is going to solve our problem.”
An article in the Washington Post by Phil Rucker on January 5 spelled this out. The article cited “multiple people involved in the administration’s discussions” and reported that “the White House is developing strategies to work around the National Rifle Association.” So their strategy is to work around the NRA even when there has been a bipartisan agreement on the NRA’s chief proposal before?
Real solutions are right in front of them on neutral ground—ideas to protect students, shore up the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), find ways to diagnose and treat people with mental-health issues and more—yet the president seems poised to overreach.
If instead President Obama were to break precedent and seek common ground, he could lead the way to reasonable and helpful solutions right now. This issue needn’t be so divisive. It might be helpful for President Obama to learn that one thing John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon had in common was membership in the NRA.