In 2008, Hillary Clinton accused Barack Obama of being a gun-grabber. Seven years later, she’s complaining that Obama hasn’t grabbed enough guns. In a new campaign ad launched today, Team Hillary demands more federal action on gun control, apparently sensing a weakness in Bernie Sanders’ record — but possibly opening up a large weakness in Hillary’s general-election campaign:
Time notes the abrupt change in tone from Hillary on the Second Amendment:
“This epidemic of gun violence knows no boundaries. Between 88 and 92 people a day are killed by guns,” Clinton says in the ad. “We need to close the loopholes and support universal background checks. How many people have to die before we actually act?”
The 30-second ad is part of an already-announced buy in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states in the Democratic primary.
Gun control has become a top issue in the primary. Clinton has said she supports universal background checks, prohibiting domestic abusers from purchasing guns and repealing legal protections for gun manufacturers, among other measures. She has called for a “national movement” to take on the National Rifle Association.
In the 2008 primary against then-Sen. Barack Obama, however, Clinton took a more moderate tone on gun, emphasizing her “wholehearted support” for the Second Amendment.
“What does Barack Obama really believe?” a mail ad from Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign asked of her Democratic primary opponent’s position on guns.
The mailer attacked Obama for first—according to the ad—telling a group in Chicago he supported a ban on handguns. The ad references a candidate questionnaire from 1996, when Obama was running for State Senate, in which he was listed as supporting a ban on ‘the manufacture, sale, and possession of handguns.’ It then notes he told an Idaho crowd that he supported the Second Amendment and finally hits him for a comment he made about about people in “small towns in Pennsylvania” who “cling to guns or religion.”
The campaign sent out the mailer in May, a month after Clinton called Obama’s “cling to guns” remark “elitist,” saying that guns were “part of culture,” and telling the story of how her father taught her to shoot in her childhood. Obama shot back, accusing her of “talking like she’s Annie Oakley.”
Flip-flops or not, Hillary Clinton has gone all in with the gun grabbers in 2015, hoping to gain an edge among progressives in the Democratic primary. James Kirchick explains exactly what Hillary and Obama mean when they both use Australia as a shining example of firearm policy:
Democratic candidates, officeholders, and liberal websites frequently invoke the example of Australia, for example. After a 1996 shooting rampage killed 35 people, the Australian government outlawed an array of firearms and instituted a compulsory buyback program that effectively eliminated private gun ownership. Since then, gun violence has dropped precipitously.
Rarely in American gun-control advocates’ references to the Australian policy, however, do they acknowledge that the program amounted to confiscation. “When Australia had a mass killing—I think it was in Tasmania—about 25 years ago, it was just so shocking, the entire country said, ‘Well, we’re going to completely change our gun laws,’ and they did,” Obama said after a June shooting in a Charleston church killed nine people. Curiously, the president omitted just what “change” the people of Australia decided to implement.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton told an audience in New Hampshire last month that “Australia is a good example” of gun-control laws, so much so that it “would be worth considering” the Antipodean solution here in the United States. She, too, neglected to mention the obligatory nature of the gun buyback scheme.
The following week, after having explicitly praised gun confiscation, however, she mocked the National Rifle Association for supposedly scaring its members into thinking that “they’re the only thing that’s going to stop the black helicopters from landing in the front yard and people’s guns being seized.”
Holding up Australia as a model of sensible gun policy without mentioning how that government forced its citizens to turn over their weapons is like praising Chinese population-control efforts without mentioning the one-child policy.
Even so, that may well sell in a Democratic primary driven by progressive passion. In a general election, however, this kind of gun-grabbing rhetoric will play poorly, as Democrats have learned the hard way ever since the 1980s and as recently as 2014’s midterm elections. Putting Hillary on the top of the ticket with coded references to Australian confiscation schemes as her ideal gun policy will damage Democrats all the way down the ticket.