Mitt Goes Hunting

Today, Mitt Romney will address the National Rifle Association, and we can be fairly sure he won't be telling them anything they don't want to hear. That's not just because telling people things they don't want to hear is something Mitt Romney doesn't do, but also because he's still transitioning from the pander-to-conservatives phase of his campaign to the pander-to-independents phase of his campaign. What's really notable is the fact that this is practically the first time Romney has had to address the issue of guns in this election. You would have thought that his primary opponents would have added guns to the litany of Romney flip-flops and hit him hard for it. I'm not sure why they didn't, but it's never too late.

As on so many other issues, Romney did a pretty clear 180 on guns between his runs for Senate and governor in Massachusetts and his runs for president. In Massachusetts he was a supporter of the state's relatively strict gun laws, and promised not to undermine them. Then we he ran for president, he joined the NRA and started talking glowingly about our beloved Second Amendment rights. Yet I'd be pretty surprised if the Obama campaign hits him on it, as easy as it would be.

That's because like everyone else, the Obama campaign thinks they'd best just stay away from the gun issue altogether. I recently wrote a four-part series on the NRA's political power for Think Progress (here's part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4), which made the case that their alleged influence over elections is largely a myth. The NRA didn't deliver Congress to the Republicans in 1994, it didn't deliver the White House to George W. Bush in 2000, and its money and endorsements have virtually no impact on elections. You can read the series if you're interested in the details, but the point is that despite these facts, nearly everyone in politics continues to labor under the false belief that if you don't do the NRA's bidding or at least get out of their way, then you're doomed.

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, when people are waking up to the fact that the NRA and its allies have successfully passed absurd gun laws all over the country in the last few years allowing people to carry, brandish, and shoot their guns at anyone who looks at them funny (see here), the time would seem ripe for some sensible discussion of whether we actually want every wannabe Yosemite Sam to be popping caps hither and yon. But we're not going to get that discussion from the president, since he's apparently terrified of offending the sensibilities of the declining number of Americans who own guns. 

Comments

Your argument may well be true with respect to the NRA, whose base would never vote for Obama under any circumstances anyway. But arguably the gun issue is a bigger minefield than that. Obama's "cling to guns" gaffe was a gaffe not because it was false, after all [See Kinsley's Law of Gaffes] but because it was successfully spun as demonstrating that Obama was an out-of-touch elitist condescending to the Heartland. In other words, it reinforced a well-established meme about liberal Democrats, one that's actually partially true but irrelevant [Politicians generally come from the elite; Lord knows Romney does, and he arguably far more "elitist" in his attitudes than Obama]. Those larger narratives take time to turn around, and make sense to people far beyond the NRA base. One can hope that the extreme guns-everywhere!! stance of so many state-level Republicans will change that, but until gun culture starts being seen as extreme rather than as white working class--and by Democrats as well as Repubicans--that ain't gonna happen.

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