As an Illinois state senator, Barack Obama voted to ban assault weapons, to prohibit gun stores to operate within five miles of a school or park, and to limit handgun purchases to one a month. After a man was charged with illegal possession of a handgun after shooting an intruder, Obama voted against a bill that would have allowed such gun violators to claim self defense. Obama said it could have led to gun owners using their weapons in the streets.
As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney signed a bill that banned the sort of rifle James Holmes used to kill 12 people at movie theater in Aurora, Colo.
“I believe the people should have the right to bear arms, but I don’t believe that we have to have assault weapons as part of our personal arsenal,” Gov. Romney said in 2004.
When they represented liberal constituencies, these two politicians both wanted to be known as advocates of gun control. But now, both are refusing to make guns an issue in the presidential race.
After the Colorado shooting, Obama spokesman Jay Carney said the president “believes we need to take steps that protect Second Amendment rights of the American people but that ensure that we are not allowing weapons into the hands of individuals who should not, by existing law, obtain those weapons…The president’s view is that we can take steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them under existing law. And that’s his focus right now.”
In other words, Obama is not going to propose any new gun control laws. Not even a revival of the assault weapons ban that was in place from 1994 to 2004, and that would have prevented Holmes from purchasing his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
Romney is simply saying, “I’m a firm believer in the Second Amendment and I also believe that this is — with emotions so high right now, this is really not a time to be talking about the politics associated with what happened in Aurora.”
For Obama, it’s a political calculation. Obama’s weakest demographic is white men without college degrees. He’s getting only 29 percent of their votes. Working-class white men have struggled during the recession, so Obama wants to make an economic argument for their support, especially in the Rust Belt swing states of Ohio, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. But they’re also culturally conservative and disproportionately rural, which means they cherish gun rights. They’re already suspicious of Obama because he’s a big city African-American liberal. If he comes out in favor of gun control, they’re not going to listen to him on jobs or any other issue. These same voters punished Democrats for passing the 1994 assault weapons ban, giving Republicans control of the House for the first time in 40 years.
That’s why we’re not going to hear about gun control between now and Election Day.
Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!