In 2008, Barack Obama bent over backward to defuse suspicions from gun owners and their chief lobbying group, the National Rifle Association. “I believe in the Second Amendment,” he assured one audience. “I will not take your shotgun away. I will not take your rifle away. I won’t take your handgun away.”
A lot of good it did him. The NRA ran ads saying he “would be the most anti-gun president in American history.” Four years later, with that fear unrealized, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre warned that Obama was plotting “to ensure re-election by lulling gun owners to sleep” so he could then “erase” the Second Amendment. That, of course, also didn’t happen.
In 2008, running against Obama, Hillary Clinton also tried to make nice with the gun-rights crowd, fondly recalling that she had learned to shoot as a child. But Obama’s experience then and since proved that there is nothing a Democratic presidential nominee can say or do to appease NRA sympathizers.
So Clinton is taking a different approach this time. She has endorsed the gun-control measures sought in vain by Obama after the Sandy Hook massacre, including universal background checks. She has slammed Bernie Sanders for supporting legislation passed in 2005 giving firearms manufacturers protection from some lawsuits. Clinton’s message to the gun lobby is: Bring it on.
Nationally, 89 percent of Americans now support universal background checks, as do 87 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of voters in households with guns. There are risks in Clinton’s forthright stance. If she gets the nomination, she could turn out gun owners who might otherwise stay home on Election Day, in states where the contest is close. If a Republican is elected, the gun lobby will be able to claim credit. If not, though, the NRA is likely to face a president who is not on its side — and has no reason to fear it.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE