ANTI-GUN CRUSADERS seem worried about the advent of a Republican administration. Heaven knows why. Republicans, in recent years, have managed to do nearly as much damage to the Second Amendment as Democrats.
In 1969, journalist William Safire asked Richard Nixon what he thought about gun control. "Guns are an abomination," Nixon replied. According to Safire, Nixon went on to confess that, "Free from fear of gun owners' retaliation at the polls, he favored making handguns illegal and requiring licenses for hunting rifles."
It was President George Bush, Sr. who banned the import of "assault weapons" in 1989, and promoted the view that Americans should only be allowed to own weapons suitable for "sporting purposes."
It was Governor Ronald Reagan of California who signed the Mulford Act in 1967, "prohibiting the carrying of firearms on one's person or in a vehicle, in any public place or on any public street." The law was aimed at stopping the Black Panthers, but affected all gun owners.
Twenty-four years later, Reagan was still pushing gun control. "I support the Brady Bill," he said in a March 28, 1991 speech, "and I urge the Congress to enact it without further delay."
One of the most aggressive gun control advocates today is Republican mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York City, whose administration sued 26 gun manufacturers in June 2000, and whose police commissioner, Howard Safir, proposed a nationwide plan for gun licensing, complete with yearly "safety" inspections.
Another Republican, New York State Governor George Pataki, on August 10, 2000, signed into law what The New York Times called "the nation's strictest gun controls," a radical program mandating trigger locks, background checks at gun shows and "ballistic fingerprinting" of guns sold in the state. It also raised the legal age to buy a handgun to 21 and banned "assault weapons," the sale or possession of which would now be punishable by seven years in prison.
Gun control crusaders argue that the Republicans are simply yielding to grassroots pressure, to gain political advantage. But polls show little evidence of such pressure
A Gallup/CNN/USA Today survey taken in June 1999 - only two months after the Littleton massacre - showed that the number of Americans who favored stricter gun laws had declined by 20 percent since 1990.
Public support for gun control has dwindled even further since then. An Associated Press poll released on the one-year anniversary of the Littleton shootings shows that Americans favor strict enforcement of existing laws over new gun laws - the exact position of the National Rifle Association (NRA) - by 42 to 33 percent.
That same month, a survey by the Pew Research Center showed that only 6 percent of Americans believed that tougher gun laws would prevent future school shootings.
Meanwhile, a Tarrance Group poll has shown that only 5 percent of Americans want gunmakers and gun dealers held responsible for misuse of firearms.
Clearly, the pressure for gun control is not coming from the grassroots. It comes from those layers of society that the left calls the "ruling classes" - academics, Hollywood stars, Washington insiders and multibillion-dollar media conglomerates.
The latter are particularly influential in pushing anti-gun propaganda. A study by the Media Research Center released in January 2000 showed that television news stories calling for stricter gun laws outnumbered those opposing such laws by a ratio of 10 to 1.
The blame for this media bias is traditionally assigned to "liberal journalists." And, indeed, most journalists do hold left-of-center views. A 1996 survey of working journalists by the Roper Center and the Freedom Forum showed that 89 percent had voted for Bill Clinton in 1992. Only 4 percent identified themselves as Republicans and only 2 percent as conservatives.
Yet, their "liberal" views probably have less impact on the media's anti-gun bias than most people assume. Rank-and-file reporters have little power to influence the political spin even of their own stories.
When I worked at the New York Post in the mid-1980s, I found the newsroom filled with liberals. They grumbled constantly about the paper's conservative slant. But they went along with it, because it was company policy.
Liberal news organizations are no different. Political bias comes from the top. Rank-and-file reporters simply do what they are told.
Those of us who cherish our Second Amendment rights are keeping our fingers crossed about George W. Bush. But the monolithic commitment America's "ruling classes" have shown toward gun control makes one wonder whether even a president is free to buck the current.