Democrats running for president have thrown off years of caution to advocate tough new gun laws, a response to a shocking series of mass shootings and changes in the nation's political makeup. The Los Angeles Times says the turnabout has been on display since last week's massacre in San Bernardino. Democratic Senate leaders forced votes on several gun control efforts, knowing they would lose, but wanting to draw a sharp, public line. Presidential candidates have also emphasized the issue at every opportunity. The advocacy breaks with more than two decades of belief that gun control was a losing issue for Democrats. The sentiment crystallized when Republicans seized control of the House in 1994, in part because of a backlash against an assault-weapons ban signed by President Clinton. When Vice President Al Gore lost his home state of Tennessee and the Democratic stronghold West Virginia in 2000, costing him the presidency, it hardened into a near certainty that gun control was political poison.
Since then, public opinion on the issue hasn't changed much, despite mass shootings in places like Colorado, Oregon and California. Support for gun control has actually been higher at earlier points than it is today. What has changed are the demographics of presidential politics. Democrats no longer rely on states like Tennessee or West Virginia to win the White House. The strategy that emerged under President Obama depends instead on a coalition of minority voters, urban dwellers and single women — groups that look far more favorably on restricting firearms. “The way to win as a Democrat is to energize that 'rising America' electorate, and being aggressive in terms of gun policy and gun safety law is a great issue to mobilize these voters,” said Tad Devine, who advises Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, once an opponent of stricter gun controls but now favoring some. “If you look at the demographic changes, you realize that being for gun safety is a good issue that Democrats can run on and don't have to run away from,” Devine said. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, pushes for gun control at every opportunity, even producing a campaign television ad focused on the issue.