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Punting Gun Control


The Democrats are +1 in the House, with Stephanie Herseth having won. Good news–if there’s anything better than a Democratic Congressperson, it’s a hot Democratic Congressperson.

Picking up a seat in the relatively poor, rural, but culturally conservative state of South Dakota reminds me of a great post by Matthew Yglesias last week, arguing for the merits of abandoning gun control as an issue. As he argues, it’s not abortion that most of these potential Democrats feel strongly about:

The cultural issue that country folk really do feel strongly about is gun control: They don’t like it. This, it seems to me, is a convenient thing for the Democrats because culturally liberal voters, who are both pro-choice and anti-gun care significantly more about abortion rights than they do about gun control. Ergo, a perfect opportunity to move to the center on a pretty tangential issue and make gains among a group of voters who are sympathetic to the Democratic message on core economic issues, and only mildly uncomfortable with the Democrats’ view on abortion.

So if I were John Kerry I’d go buy a grandfathered assault rifle at a gun show, then head out to the woods and mow down a few deer with my semi-automatic firing. “Some in my party,” Kerry intoned, “say that this is not a legitimate hunting weapon. To them I say: Look at all this venison.” Then grill it up, and start talking about Bush’s giveaways to the HMOs and the pharmaceutical industry, about how his determination to cram subsidies for coal, oil, and gas companies has prevented the development of alternative fuels that could revitalize the rural economy. Etc. Where there’s a will to compromise on guns, there’s a way to win.

Yglesias has the politics exactly right. What I’d like to add is that it makes sense in terms of principle as well. Reproductive freedom is a core Democratic value. Gun control shouldn’t be. While one might wish to run American history again with different gun control policies, the effects of gun control policies that are politically and constitutionally viable at the non-local level are too negligible to be worth fighting for. Really, who gives a shit whether there are 4- or 7- day waiting periods, or exactly what types of assault rifles are banned? Punting gun control is a way to help pick up crucial swing states without sacrificing a significant principle.

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