Could the gun control debate spoil Democrats' chances to retake Congress?

The gun control debate is once again in high gear thanks largely to the media’s focus on high school activists demanding more laws to prevent future attacks. But today the Hill reports some Democrats are still a bit nervous about what the intense focus on this issue could mean for their chances to take the House and Senate later this year. Historically, this argument has not always gone well for them:

Democrats paid a steep political price after championing an assault weapons ban in 1994 and are wary of energizing the GOP base.

One former Democratic leadership aide put it bluntly: “How do you keep from having a conversation about sensible changes be turned into ‘They want to take your guns away’?”

Meredith Kelly, spokeswoman for the House Democrats’ campaign arm, said the party has no plan for a national messaging strategy on gun reform, citing the “geographically and culturally diverse House battlefield.”

But naturally, there are some Democrats who are eager to go all in on gun control in the belief that they could ride a new wave of activism to victory:

“I’m open to coming into any community to talk about gun-violence prevention,” said [Rep. Mike] Thompson, a Blue Dog and Vietnam War veteran. “If a mayor, county supervisor, state legislator wants to invite me into a district that’s represented by a Republican who won’t coauthor the background check, have plane ticket, will travel.”

Echoing that message, Democratic strategist David Wade pointed to the Long Island railroad shooting in 1993 that became a galvanizing issue for Democrats to win back suburban voters…

“In many places we may now be watching a rebirth of that activism and this may become an issue helping to drive our turnout and enthusiasm at the polls,” Wade said. “We shouldn’t be afraid of the issue.”

That’s a big gamble, especially for Democrats in red states like Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp. It all comes down to whether or not you believe there has been a real change of mind on this issue or just a temporary “moment” that will pass.

My own view is that the reason for the current rebirth of activism isn’t because something has changed but because one network decided to go all in on this issue last week and throw away any pretense of objectivity. CNN has been promoting this as a cause on their home page and on air. They are giving 16-year-old gun control activists plenty of airtime and turning this into an ongoing spectacle that other networks feel obligated to cover.

But one way or another the subject will change long before November. That could be the result of any number of things from a terror attack to a foreign policy clash to the next Trump tweet. It’s a safe bet we won’t be talking about this same thing, in the same way, come November.

Unfortunately, there’s also the real possibility this won’t be the last school shooting of 2018. Giving school shootings all of this attention might even encourage copycat shooters who want some attention for themselves. And that means this issue could revive itself periodically throughout the year in ways that are impossible to predict. This issue could drop off the radar next month and then return with a vengeance in October.

Politically speaking, there’s a risk here for both parties. Going all in on gun control could very well backfire on Democrats as it has before. But not making some visible effort could also backfire on Republicans. The nation’s mood 9 months from now is not something anyone can accurately predict when the focus of the news cycle is subject to change (and partisan manipulation) on a daily basis.