Guns and Governing

I've been involved with politics all my life, served as Mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana for twelve years, been the Republican nominee for United States Senator in Indiana, and now, after four months as head of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, I'm at a loss why some pundits and elected officials consider common sense measures to reduce gun violence as "wedge issues" too controversial to be considered by the new Congress.

We're not talking about banning or confiscating guns that people buy and own for hunting, collecting, or personal protection. The issue isn't whether someone is "pro-gun" or "anti-gun" but why there is a reluctance from some of our elected officials to take moderate steps that would make our homes and neighborhoods safer.

The following points should satisfy any political concerns that are out there:

  1. Polls show consistently that the American people strongly support common sense restrictions on gun purchases. There is a consensus that Brady background checks, prohibitions against "straw purchases," limits on bulk sales, strong enforcement of gun laws (including those applicable to gun dealers), and restrictions on certain types of military-style weapons and ammunition makes sense and would help promote public safety.
  2. The political clout of the gun lobby has been overblown. In the 2006 campaigns where the Brady Campaign and the NRA endorsed competing candidates, the NRA lost 80%, including four of four U.S. Senate races and five of five Governor races. The NRA spent over 2.1 million dollars (80% of their independent expenditures) on losing campaigns. Five of their six top-funded U.S. Senate candidates all lost. When reviewing their endorsed or A rated candidates, the NRA lost with 109 U.S. House candidates and 18 U.S. Senate candidates. On the other hand, the Brady Campaign was successful in over 96% of the races around the country where it made an endorsement. In numerous races, pro-active support for common sense gun violence protection measures helped a candidate win. I know of no candidate whose support for this harmed their efforts.
  3. Increasing gun violence is a concern to voters across the country. As Charlie Cook pointed out in his "Cook Political Report" column on October 3, 2006, "the tragic news" of the school shootings in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and elsewhere "certainly isn't going to help Republicans' standing among many moderate and independent suburban voters." Whether evaluating steps meant to keep us safe from threats from abroad, or threats at home, voters want realistic, pragmatic responses, not theoretical stances that either have no or even negative effect. More guns are likely to make a home, a state, or a country more dangerous, not more safe.

The new Congress could send the public a positive message of its concern for safer communities by taking common sense steps like eliminating current restrictions on publicizing data about the source of guns used in crimes, strengthening the enforcement powers of law enforcement agencies including the ATF, making it harder for criminals and terrorists to buy guns by requiring background checks for all gun sales, and restricting sales of military style weapons and the ammunition that's used in those weapons. Steps like this help make us safer and will score political points for those who support them.