WITH AN EVER WIDENING split in the Democratic Party on the issue of gun control, Sarah Brady and her group, are still working hard to keep the issue viable in the political arena. The Brady bunch, formerly known as Handgun Control, Inc., are trying new tactics as Americans’ enthusiasm for gun control has lessened and Democrats are reassessing the issue.
According to an ABCNEWS.com Poll "Americans overwhelmingly agree with the Justice Department's new position that the Second Amendment guarantees the right of citizens to own guns…After hearing the Second Amendment verbatim, 73 percent in an ABCNEWS.com poll said it guarantees the right to individual gun ownership. Twenty percent said, instead, that it only guarantees the right of states to maintain militias." This year’s poll found a reduction of 10 points since 2000 in the number of Americans who favor "stricter gun control laws", and "strong" support for gun control down to 39% – its lowest since 1992 when Bill Clinton became President.
Under the leadership of Bill Clinton the Democratic Party was almost in lockstep with the Bradys. At the 1996 Democratic convention Sarah and Jim Brady were featured prime time speakers promoting their gun control agenda. Yet, during those dark years for law-abiding gun owners there were a few bright spots in the Democratic Party. Three Democratic Governors, Zell Miller of Georgia, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Jim Hunt of North Carolina, bucked the national trend and supported gun owner interests.
With Clinton’s influence on the Democratic Party non-existent and political pundits acknowledging that Al Gore’s loss of such states as his home state of Tennessee, West Virginia, and Florida came from disaffected Democratic gun owners, many Democratic candidates are distancing themselves from supporting gun control issues and the gun ban groups.
The 2001 Virginia governor’s race was the first indication of change. Because the incumbent governor is not allowed to run for re-election, every four years the Virginia governor’s race pits two non-incumbents against each other. A Democrat, Mark Warner, ran against Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley. Warner, distinguishing himself from previous Democratic gubernatorial candidates, openly courted the endorsement of the National Rifle Association (NRA). That courtship kept the NRA from supporting Mark Earley as it had supported the successful gubernatorial candidacies of George Allen and Jim Gilmore.
According to a Washington Post article of October 26 Warner had successfully defused the "gun control" issue and kept NRA’s political muscle out of the campaign. A last minute letter from NRA calling Earley "clearly a better candidate" was hardly enough to change minds in Southern Virginia where Warner had been courting Democratic gun owners for months. As Warner’s campaign manager, Steve Jarding, stated "We've reached out to all groups in this campaign, including hunters and gun owners, and we endorse Second Amendment rights,"
Warner has since demonstrated his support for law-abiding gun owners by signing a bill passed by the Republican dominated Virginia legislature that overturned Alexandria's ban on concealed weapons in public buildings. The NRA reciprocated by sending its Virginia members an orange postcard asking them to thank the governor for his support.
This change in Democratic attitudes is forcing the Brady bunch to use new tactics. When U.S. Senator Zell Miller gave the keynote speech at the NRA’s Annual Meeting Banquet in April, they sent their members an e-mail that asked everyone to "call Senator Miller" and express unhappiness with Miller’s speech to the NRA. One pro-gun activist called the number and asked how many calls had come it. The answer was "sixty"-- a number far short of the NRA members who gave Zell Miller a standing ovation for his speech.
Several days after Miller’s NRA speech, an article in USA Today reported on a conference call among Southern governors:
Most of the governors in Monday's conference call with reporters –Roy Barnes of Georgia, Don Siegelman of Alabama, Jim Hodges of South Carolina, Mike Easley of North Carolina, Ronnie Musgrove of Mississippi and Parris Glendening of Maryland -- agreed that guns played at least some role in Gore's defeat. And they made clear that they are comfortable with the gun culture.
Of all those Southern Governors the Brady bunch has only one supporter: Governor Glendening.
This has forced the Brady bunch into making early political endorsements, something they very rarely did in past elections. In March they came out endorsing Congresswoman Lynn Rivers (D) in the August 6 Democratic primary for Michigan’s newly drawn 15th Congressional District. Thanks to redistricting Rivers, a four-term Congresswoman, has been thrown into a bitter primary against Congressman John Dingell, a leader of pro-gun Democrats. In their press release the Brady bunch touts Rivers as a "committed advocate for stronger gun laws’ and her election is one of their "top priorities."
Then on May 21 they sent out a press release endorsing California’s Governor Gray Davis for re-election. "In a video endorsement, Mrs. Brady praised Gov. Davis for his unwavering support for common sense gun laws and compared his strong record of leadership on gun safety to the dubious one of his opponent, Bill Simon."
In a country that according to ABCnews.com "few think new laws would substantially reduce violent crime, or would be more effective than better enforcement of current laws," the Brady bunch is trying to bring back the halcyon days when Clinton bashed the NRA. Yet, even one of their strongest champions, Senator Chuck Schumer stated in a May 8 press release "the broad principle that there is an individual right to keep and bear arms is shared by many Americans, including myself." Even Schumer agrees that the gun control issue is a loser for many of his fellow Democrats and is backing off "strong" support for gun control. He understands what it takes to remain in the majority in the U.S. Senate.