Democrats Stopped Trying On Gun Control, Undermined Its Advocates


In conservative states, gun rights advocates keep finding new frontiers, says Governing magazine. Gun control legislation has no chance in Congress. Gun control supporters have to be content doing little more than trying to hold their ground, even in blue states. On gun control, Democrats stopped trying. After Al Gore’s loss in the 2000 presidential election, Democrats decided that their views on gun control were a political liability. A majority of the public favored gun control, but a majority of the members of the public who actually voted on gun control didn’t. Except in a few big cities where the issue had salience (because of gun violence problems), Democrats who believed in gun control stopped talking about it.

Only now are the full consequences of this decision clear. By not talking about gun control, Democrats undermined the movement in favor of gun control. More often than not, the public cares most about the issues their political leaders say are important. In 2000, hundreds of thousands attended a march in Washington in favor of gun control. Would that ever happen today? Groups like the NRA have remained as focused and motivated as ever. If there’s a lesson here, it’s that public opinion and political activism aren’t static. Parties can choose to respond to public opinion, but they also can choose to try to shape public opinion. What would have happened if Democrats had kept fighting on gun control? Perhaps the party would have lost lots of elections that they won. But, perhaps they would have won some converts to their cause.

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