Elections are in the air, and while the presidential contenders and the media focus on jobs and the economy as election issues, members of Congress and state legislators know that certain issues can wake up voters and make a huge difference come Election Day. Gun control and firearm rights are among those voter-motivating issues, and the push for gun points is well underway.
Politicians and their campaign strategists do their best to fire up gun voters and earn their support by cosponsoring pro-rights legislation, holding hearings and generating committee and floor activity that catches the attention of the gun magazines and rights reporters like me. To a large degree, though, the biannual congressional gun show is exactly that: a show. As my late father, Neal Knox, was fond of pointing out, most members of Congress are interested in the gun issue only as a political issue. Few are interested in actually passing serious pro-rights legislation; their main interest is to bolster their reelection credentials.
The pre-election dance is a complex give-and-take between a politician’s personal interests, party interests and the demands of the public. It is all choreographed by political professionals with divergent political and social philosophies, but all with the objective of claiming victory on Election Eve.
For the politicians and their strategists, the name of the game is lots of show with little go.
Their objective is to activate the special interests with a show of activity but to avoid actually doing much of anything that might be turned against them later. This is especially true concerning gun issues because, generally speaking, neither the politicians nor their campaign strategists really know much about guns, gun issues or gun voters – those of us who vote based largely or entirely on our gun rights. Being professional politicians and political hacks, even those who claim to support gun rights tend to be somewhat elitist in their attitudes towards the hoi polloi and look at gun owners with almost as much mistrust and distaste as do their anti-gun colleagues.
When rights activists or gun groups like the National Rifle Association ask them to support a particular piece of legislation, they run a cost-benefit analysis, calculating their support based on the mileage they think they can get out of it versus the damage they think it could do. Their objective is to be seen as gun-rights heroes by gun voters while simultaneously presenting themselves as moderate rights supporters to the general public, and even as open-minded gun-rights doubters to the anti-rights groups. Politicians want to be all things to all people, and nowhere is that more true or apparent than in the gun issue.
Currently there are several pro-rights initiatives active in Congress, and you can bet that the objective of many of the “supporters” of these measures is to look for ways to use them to gain votes without ever having to make a hard vote, much less to actually pass legislation that would make guns more accessible to more people. To do this they depend on agreements between party leadership in the House and Senate, agreements with big players like the NRA and clever little parliamentary tricks to stall and stymie legislation without leaving an obvious culprit to suffer the wrath of frustrated gun voters.
The trick for activists is to force these “faux-rights” politicians into a position where they have no choice but to show their true colors and either put up or shut up. That is accomplished by pressuring party leadership to push for a vote, letting individual politicians know that “just show” isn’t enough to earn our support and votes, and lobbying the NRA to push for the votes even if they don’t think they can win or if it isn’t what their friends in party leadership want to do.
In mid-October the House passed a bill (H.R. 2349) that would clarify that a determination of “mental defective” from the Veterans Administration (particularly when it’s just a matter of a veteran having trouble managing bank accounts and so having a spouse or relative named as fiduciary to manage their affairs), does not justify permanent revocation of the veteran’s right to arms. The bill would require that only in cases where the veteran is adjudicated to be a danger to themselves or others would their right to arms be revoked and their names submitted to the FBI’s “no guns for you” list. Passage of this bill in the Senate, along with Barack Obama’s signature, would result in the immediate restoration of rights to some 100,000 veterans who have had their rights unjustly revoked.
The very next day a bill that would require states to recognize other states’ concealed firearms permits passed out of a House committee. The push is on to bring this bill to the floor for a vote of the full house. Whether that actually happens depends a great deal on how much direct support Republican leaders in the House think such a vote would generate for their members and how much damage it might do to the Democrats.
I believe that if it actually does come to a vote in the House, it will pass with surprisingly high bipartisan support. Democrats in a lot of districts have figured out that voting against guns seriously hurts them, so when it comes down to it, they will jump on the bandwagon.
What will probably have the greatest impact on whether the “full faith and credit” concealed weapons permit bill (H.R. 822) gets voted out of the House is its prognosis in the Senate. If Harry Reid and Senate Democrats make it clear to their House colleagues that the bill would be dead on arrival in the Senate, the House will consider it a freebie and pass it in a heartbeat. If, on the other hand, Reid and company suggest that locking up the bill would be difficult and politically inconvenient, there will be much more resistance to passage in the House – from Democrats and Republicans.
The point is that there are a lot of “pro-gun” politicians on both sides of the aisle who like to talk pro-gun, but are strongly averse to ever actually doing anything pro-gun. As long as they are confident that a bill is never really going to be enacted, they will valiantly support and vote for it, but if there is a chance that it will actually pass and be signed into law, they will put their side-stepping shoes on.
Guns aren’t the only issue that is played like this, but gun issues are a good litmus test for whether a politician stands by their words. So right now we have an opportunity to push for some political true colors with H.R. 2349 (and its Senate mirror S. 1707) awaiting action in the Senate, and H.R. 822 awaiting action in the House.
One thing squeamish Republicans should be reminded of is that passage of either or both of these bills will put anti-rights extremist Barack Obama in a very difficult position. While he’s not likely to get much support from gun voters regardless, forcing him to sign or kill these bills can only hurt him politically.
Senators need to hear from constituents about supporting veterans rights with H.R. 2349/S. 1707. Representatives need some coaxing to make a start toward national carry reciprocity by passing H.R.822.
Are your servants in Washington representing you? Do they know what it’s going to take to earn your vote? If they haven’t heard from you on the issue, now is the time. Trust me, they’re listening.