Fall is time when the thoughts of many Americans turns to hunting. In fact, when I arrived at my sister’s house yesterday for a Thanksgiving visit with the family, my nephew was unloading a five point buck he’d taken just that morning. But when we think of hunting, it also brings up the frequently uncomfortable (for Democrats) subject of gun control.
As an AP article today reminds us, President Obama has something of an “interesting” history on the issue. As a senator and candidate, this is the man who once chastised rural voters about “clinging” to their God and their guns. He was also a champion of bans on “assault rifles” and other measures before reaching the White House. Now, however, facing a slate of potential GOP challengers who are all avid hunters and shooters, it’s gotten awfully quiet at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue when it comes to second amendment rights.
President Barack Obama, on the other hand, is virtually silent on the issue.
He has hardly addressed it since a couple of months after the January assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., when he promised to develop new steps on gun safety in response. He still has failed to do so, even as Tucson survivors came to Capitol Hill last week to push for action to close loopholes in the gun background check system.
Democrats have learned the hard way that embracing gun control can be terrible politics, and the 2012 presidential election is shaping up to underscore just how delicate the issue can be. With the election likely to be decided largely by states where hunting is a popular pastime, like Missouri, Ohio or Pennsylvania, candidates of both parties want to win over gun owners, not alienate them.
For Republicans, that means emphasizing their pro-gun credentials. But for Obama and the Democrats, the approach is trickier.
Tricky is putting it mildly. From the pure politics side, this issue is completely toxic for Democrats. As Ed noted in October, public support for bans on handguns has dropped to historic lows, with barely one quarter of voters giving the idea Up Twinkles. Support for the idea of restricting rifles and shotguns for hunters is essentially non-existent.
But Obama’s base is still putting pressure on him. He made some promises after the shooting of Gabby Giffords, and progressives are still hopping on buses and heading to Washington to ask whether he plans to make good on them. Gun control is hardly the number one issue on most people’s plates given the economic environment, but it’s still an important one for the furthest left segment of his base.
So what has Obama’s response been? Pretty much radio silence. In fact, the only movement we’ve seen in either direction was his decision to sign into law a measure allowing people to bring guns into national parks. But that was fairly weak tea in terms of winning over second amendment rights enthusiasts, and really did nothing much aside from angering an already disappointed liberal base.
Rest assured that you’ll be seeing plenty of advertisements next year showing Republicans loading up the truck and heading out to go hunting. And as the AP points out, hunting is a very popular pastime in the less urban areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia. Don’t think that Team Obama hasn’t taken note of it.