The high water mark for gun control in the United States was the so-called, but misnamed, “Assault Weapon Ban,” which was passed through Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1994. A CNN/USA/Gallup poll the year before found that 77 percent of Americans supported the ban.
The law didn’t ban “assault weapons,” but merely the importation of certain semi-automatic firearms with specific cosmetic features. The practicality of the law was also highly questionable. Even the Justice Department said these types of weapons were rarely used for criminal purposes.
Democrats trumpeted the new law as a major blow to the “gun lobby,” and freedom-lovers were in a state of panic. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-California), emboldened by the new law, told CBS’s 60 Minutes, “If I could’ve gotten fifty-one votes in the Senate of the United States for an outright ban, picking up every one of them, Mr. and Mrs. America turn ’em all in, I would have done it.”
It was only a matter of time before the next federal assault on the Second Amendment, and an opportunity presented itself to stymie further gun control: The 1994 mid-term elections. Pro-gun groups reached out in earnest to voters, warning of the threat to freedom posed by a political party mad with power and Hell bent on running roughshod over the Constitution. Voters responded accordingly, ending four decades of Democratic Party rule in the U.S. House of Representatives. Bill Clinton, writing years later in his memoirs, acknowledged the role played by pro-gun voters in that historic election.
Sufficiently cowed, Democrats largely backed down, contenting themselves with opportunistic swipes at congressional Republicans, usually after some tragedy involving a madman with a gun shocked the public. When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008 he positioned himself as pro-Second Amendment. Once elected, he dropped the facade and embraced gun control.
Gun owners responded in kind, turning out in 2010 and giving Republicans larger majorities in the House and Senate. Every time the president opened his mouth about guns, gun sales went through the roof. An historic recall election in Colorado, in 2013, removed two state senators from office and scared a third into resigning – all because they had supported a controversial gun-control law. By the 2014 mid-terms Democratic pollsters were warning candidates against making gun control an issue. In private many Democrats were asking the president to stop talking about it.
Polling on the issue is clear. In 2012 support for an “assault weapon” ban had slipped almost 30 points, to 49 percent, and in 2014 Pew Research reported that for the first time in two decades most Americans support the right to keep and bear arms over more gun control. A massive majority of Americans – almost 70 percent – say they prefer to live in neighborhoods where people can own guns.
A Suffolk University/USA Today poll in 2015 found that most Americans, by an impressive margin of 52 to 43 percent, did not want gun control to be a factor in the 2016 elections. Hillary Clinton ignored these findings and bashed the NRA and gun-owners every chance she got – which is part of the reason Donald Trump currently resides in the White House.
A new opportunity for gun control presented itself when a maniac opened fire on concert-goers in Las Vegas on October 1, killing 58 and injuring 500 before taking his own life. A few Democrats (and even a few Republicans) in the House and Senate said it was finally time to “do something,” such as a ban on “bump stocks” used by the killer that make it easier to fire multiple rounds from a rifle. But even Senator Feinstein was forced to admit that no law could have stopped him, and a measure of embarrassment befell Democrats when it was reported that bump stocks were approved by the BATF under President Obama.
Regardless of the temporary outrage that followed the Las Vegas killings, Democrats seem to have learned an important lesson. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-New York), always a vocal supporter of any new gun-control proposal, is reported to be “urging” his colleagues to tone down their rhetoric and focus on other key issues going into the 2018 midterm elections. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) told the Hill that he wasn’t sure if he would push for a vote on his gun-control amendments.
Gun control is not on the agenda because it is a losing issue for Democrats – and they know it.