For well over a decade Democratic politicians have been hesitant to take on the NRA, burned too many times by electoral losses in swing districts and states caused in part by the gun rights organization’s influence among rural white voters. But after years of non-stop mass shootings and widespread gun violence, the issue has returned to the party’s list of priorities like it once was in the early-90’s. If this week is any indication, the three Democratic presidential candidates are leading the way into solidifying it as a key national focus once again for the party as 2016 nears.
Hillary Clinton put a special focus on gun control this week in her trip through Iowa on Tuesday. She held her first event in Coralville, just a few miles down the road from the mall shooting that killed a 20-year-old woman in June.
“Instead of becoming numb, I have become angry,” a local mother with the Moms Demand Action group said as she introduced Clinton. “We should not have to worry about our children getting shot when we send them to school. Our children are there to learn, not to hide from a shooter.”
Clinton only spoke for a few minutes on the topic in Coralville before taking questions for the town forum-style event.
“We do need to come together and pursue common sense reforms,” Clinton told the crowd of 500. “Some people say this is an urban problem, this happens somewhere else. It’s not true … [T]he young woman here in Coralville who was killed in the mall where she worked.”
She then specifically called on voters to turn gun control into a driving force to vote for or against candidates.
“[W]e are going to make this a voting issue, just like the other side does,” Clinton said.
At her later event in Grinnell, Clinton talked about how she had met the previous day with a group of mothers in Chicago, saying that some had lost their children to police violence and some to gun violence from civilians.
“What they had in common, though, was that their child was dead,” Clinton said gravely as the audience went quiet. “I sat and listened as each of those moms told me about their son or their daughter.”
She pointedly called out the NRA as the largest culprit in the inability to make any progress on gun violence.
“A majority of Americans and a majority of gun owners know we have to make changes,” Clinton told the crowd of mostly students in Grinnell. “What stands in the way? One of the most powerful lobbies in our country: the NRA. It intimidates, and bullies legislators and governors into doing what they want. That must end, my friends. When 33,000 people a year die from something, shame on us if we don’t respond.”
Clinton called for comprehensive background checks, closing the gun show loophole, dealing with the guns and ammunition sold over the internet. Then she took aim at those who produce and sell guns, putting a heavy emphasis on every couple words she spoke in a way she rarely does.
“Finally, for the life of me, why is that gun sellers and manufacturers and sellers are the only industry in America that are immune from liability?” Clinton asked. “Unique among all the businesses across our nation. Because a majority in Congress decided to go along with the NRA’s request that gun makers and sellers be immune from any accountability for their actions. That is absolutely outrageous. I voted against it. Why on earth would you gift that to anybody, let alone those who make instruments that are used to kill?”
The Clinton campaign also released a new ad this week on gun control:
That’s not enough, however, for Martin O’Malley, who opened up a new line of policy contrast with Clinton on guns this week. O’Malley has long touted his success in passing an assault weapons ban in Maryland, a key talking point for him on the trail even before the Charleston shooting. As the issue has gained prominence in recent months, he’s increasingly positioned himself as the toughest on gun safety in the race.
This week he rolled out a plan of seven executive actions he would take as president to reduce and prevent gun violence. That’s added to his earlier detailed gun reform plan that he hopes would cut deaths from gun violence in half within ten years.
This week, as part of his sharper comparison messaging with Clinton, his campaign released a video that suggested Clinton’s stance on guns in 2008 held some similarities to Jeb Bush’s position now.
The gun reform issue put Bernie Sanders on the defensive for a few weeks last month, with both Clinton and O’Malley pressuring him at the debate over his vote against the Brady Bill. But Sanders has since pressed back hard, pointing out often that he’s no friend of the NRA.
“Bernie Sanders has worked very hard throughout his career to earn his D-minus rating from the NRA,” Robert Becker, the state director for Bernie Sanders’ Iowa campaign told Starting Line. “Time and time again he has defied the NRA by voting for bans on assault weapons, efforts to close the gun-show loophole, tougher regulations on high capacity magazines, expanding background checks, and preserving Washington, DC’s strict gun laws.”
“As president, Senator Sanders will continue fighting for common-sense gun safety measures,” Becker added. “With his call for a political revolution and his willingness to take on Wall Street and the billionaire class, Sanders is perfectly positioned to defy the corporate interests behind the NRA. Only when millions of Americans unite and demand common-sense gun laws will we be able to break the NRA’s special interest control of Congress.”
The Democratic Party has come a long way in recent years to now see each of their three presidential candidates trying to outdo the other on gun reform. Whether it’s a lasting change will rest on down-ballot Democrats’ embrace of the message. On that front, the election results from Tuesday night are notable – in Kentucky, a more rural, NRA-friendly state, the Democratic candidate for Governor was handily beaten, losing a governorship the Democrats have held for all but four of the past 44 years.
by Pat Rynard