The Corner

Hillary’s First Mistake?

Per Alex Seitz-Wald over at National Journal:

Hillary Clinton has mostly steered clear of contentious domestic political issues in recent years, but on Tuesday, she said gun laws need to be reined in.

Speaking at a National Council for Behavioral Health conference outside of Washington, D.C., Clinton was asked about the role guns play in suicides. While Clinton said she supports Second Amendment rights, she added that there needs to be a proper trade off between safety and freedom, and that things have swung too far towards the latter.

“I think again we’re way out of balance. We’ve got to rein in what has become almost an article of faith that almost anybody can have a gun anywhere at any time. And I don’t believe that is in the best interest of the vast majority of people,” she said.

The merits and demerits of this statement to one side, this is an extremely odd thing for Clinton to have done. If Democrats have a serious weakness, it is the gun issue. Michael Dukakis suffered considerably with rural voters in 1988 for his stance on handguns; Bill Clinton was clobbered in the 1994 midterms in part because of his support for a federal “assault weapons” ban; and Al Gore arguably destroyed his campaign in 2000 by making support for stricter gun-control laws a central part of his pitch. Does Hillary think this has changed?

Certainly, guns are going to come up in the Democratic primary, which means that if she runs she is at some point going to have to stake out a position. But why now? Why do it without being forced to do it? The question Hillary was asked was specifically about suicide (which accounts for more than two thirds of all “gun deaths” in the United States). All she had to do was to reaffirm that the issue was a complex one, that the availability of guns certainly doesn’t help here, and then move on to something else. Instead, she chose to answer the question at length. (And indelicately, too: Purely as a matter of style, one never wants to be seen proposing to “rein in” rights. Watch for this phrase in a campaign commercial near you.) Odd.

As Seitz-Wald notes,

She referred to recent high-profile incidents of minor disputes in movie theaters or parking lots that escalated into lethal shootings, saying, “that’s what happens in the countries I’ve visited that have no rule of law.”

She decried new laws proliferating across the country that allow people to carry weapons in churches, bars, and other public places, saying that they will only lead to more deadly violence that could otherwise be avoided. “At the rate we’re going, we’re going to have so many people with guns,” she continued, “in settings where…[they] decide they have a perfect right to defend themselves against the gum chewer or the cell phone talker.”

In other words, more than two years before a general election, Hillary has announced that she is uncomfortable with Stand Your Ground and with expanded concealed carry — both of which are pretty popular with the public at large, and neither of which are being seriously debated outside of the progressive base.

One can only presume that this means she is honestly concerned. Fair enough. Still, as her husband warned President Obama last year, even on a less controversial question such as universal background checks, this is an area fraught with peril.

But, Clinton warned, the issue of guns has a special emotional resonance in many rural states — and simply dismissing pro-gun arguments is counterproductive.

While some polls show that the public by-and-large supports several proposals for increased gun control, Clinton said that it’s not the public support that matters — it’s how strongly people feel about the issue.

“All these polls that you see saying the public is for us on all these issues — they are meaningless if they’re not voting issues,” Clinton said.

Clinton recalled Al Gore’s 2000 campaign against George W. Bush in Colorado, where a referendum designed to close the so-called gun show loophole shared the ballot with the presidential ticket. Gore publicly backed the proposal, while Bush opposed it.

Though the referendum passed with 70 percent of the vote, Gore lost the state. Clinton said that the reason was because a good chunk of the referendum’s opponents were single-issue voters who automatically rejected Gore as anti-gun.

And Clinton said that passing the 1994 federal assault weapons ban “devastated” more than a dozen Democratic lawmakers in the 1994 midterms — and cost then-Speaker of the House Tom Foley (D-Wash.) his job and his seat in Congress.

“I’ve had many sleepless nights in the many years since,” Clinton said. One reason? “I never had any sessions with the House members who were vulnerable,” he explained — saying that he had assumed they already knew how to explain their vote for the ban to their constituents.

An unforced error.


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