Glenn Reynolds takes note of the significant shift in judicial and popular thought on gun control over the last 30 years, ending with the McDonald decision that made clear the individual right of Americans to keep and bear arms, in a Washington Examiner column over the weekend. Glenn emphasizes that this shows how much impact the Tea Party can have if it maintains its efforts in the long run, reversing a seemingly-unstoppable tide of government bloat and intrusion, but the transformation is worthy of note even without that context:
Nowadays, it’s hard to find a Democrat outside of the party’s deepest-blue sanctuary cities who will argue against private ownership of guns. Even Al Sharpton reports that 90 percent of his talk show listeners are happy with the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of an individual right to arms. But less than 20 years ago, it was a different story altogether.
President George H.W. Bush talked about gun rights, but didn’t much mean it. His successor, President Clinton, was even more negative.
Gun control was on the march, gun control proponents said it was only a matter of time before America joined other “civilized” countries by banning the private ownership of firearms, and laws at both the state and federal level were getting tighter. Morton Grove, Ill., had banned handguns, and had seen that ban upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals. (The Supreme Court declined to hear the case).
In 1994, House Speaker Tom Foley stopped the clock when the time for voting ran out on the Assault Weapons Ban, allowing the whips to round up a couple of votes and let the bill pass. The Assault Weapons Ban was seen by many — among both its proponents and its opponents — as a step toward a complete gun ban.
There was much gloom and doom talk among libertarians, conservatives and gun rights supporters generally. This was it. We were on the slippery slope to tyranny. But then something happened: People stopped talking, and started acting.
How deeply embedded was that popular consensus, especially in media and entertainment? The 1995 romantic/political comedy The American President used the antipathy towards gun rights for its memorable climax, square in the middle of the Clinton era, by having Michael Douglas declare, “I’m gonna get the guns!”
Thirteen years later, the Democrats elected Barack Obama in part by convincing people that he wouldn’t come for our guns (figuratively speaking, as I don’t currently own a firearm). In fact, Obama and the White House continue to insist that they’re not coming after the guns, although many gun owners don’t really believe it. Why do they have to keep selling their stated laissez-faire policy on guns? Because that’s the new mainstream.
Compare today with the release of this film. Those who have seen The American President know that the character Douglas portrays is positioned in the film as a centrist who initially bails on the gun law out of political cowardice. Gun-rights activists are portrayed as extremists out of the American mainstream, led by a Republican politician played by Richard Dreyfuss with all of the subtlety of a Snidely Whiplash. The only thing Dreyfuss missed was a handlebar moustache he could twirl. And this movie did decent box office, grossing $65 million domestically with another $30 million in rentals, according to IMDB, although its bloated $62 million budget — for a romantic comedy in 1995 dollars? — kept it in the red. The anti-gun, pro-government control message was the old mainstream.
Second Amendment activists didn’t let the media and the political establishment stop them from fighting for individual liberty, Glenn argues, and the Tea Party activists need to take the same long-term view. The effort won’t end after the midterm elections; in fact, that will only be the start. We can change the big-government consensus, too, if we stick with it long enough to actually start reducing the size of government.