Sunday, December 20, 2015

Bernie feels the burn

Vermont gun shop

I guess if Bernie has a soft spot it is guns.  O'Malley and Clinton both tried to draw him out on the issue, but the Bern was having none of it.  On the campaign trail, his opposition to gun laws hasn't seemed to hurt him.  In fact, it rarely comes up.  It is only at the debates where his opponents challenge him on his apparent soft stance.  Yet, Bernie proudly boasted of his "D- rating" from the NRA and noted that he was for the assault rifle ban.  What he wants is "common sense gun legislation."

Bernie has a more pragmatic view of gun control than his opponents, particularly Martin O'Malley, who trumpets the tough gun laws Maryland adopted when he was governor.  At a previous debate, Bernie shot back saying how difficult it is to get any gun legislation through Congress given the demographics of this country, noting that it is a rural v. urban issue, and the rural votes outstrip the urban votes.

Maryland has become a favorite target of the NRA.  Despite the state's tough gun laws, Baltimore is one of the most violent cities in America, subject of two grim television series -- Homicide and The Wire.  The latter made while O'Malley was governor.  Baltimore's new mayor countered that many of the guns are coming from out of state, and that gun control can not be a state by state issue, which is O'Malley's argument as well.

Gun control is probably the deepest wedge issue in the red state-blue state divide.  However, many "blue states," like Virginia, have little in the way of gun legislation, which leaves Maryland, its neighbor, fighting an uphill battle, as there are no border controls to check weapons as they travel across state lines.

Ironically, this is the same frustration red states have with blue states when it comes to  marijuana laws.  Nebraska and Kansas actually filed a suit against Colorado over Amendment 64, which legalized pot as a recreational drugs.  The state sheriff departments even got Colorado sheriffs to join in the suit, claiming the law created a "crisis of confidence."  Maybe Maryland can file a lawsuit against Virginia and other states?

Like it or not, guns have become a given in American society.  There are roughly 300 million firearms in circulation, making it virtually impossible to issue the kind of legislation that would lessen the impact of these firearms.  Guns now kill more people than do cars.  Over 30,000 persons die each year as the result of firearms.  Most are suicides.  Roughly 11,000 deaths are considered homicides.    A statistic that strenuously questions the civility in this country.  Yet, as Bernie noted, it is a Sisyphusian battle to try to do anything about it, noting the gridlock in Congress.

Bernie has to answer to his Vermont constituency as well, which doesn't want any federal gun laws.  It is a libertarian issue for many Americans, and Vermont prides itself on its independence, despite being a "blue state."

However, the US Congress was able to pass gun legislation before, including an assault rifle ban in 1994, months before the Republicans took over the House.  The ban was allowed to expire in 2004.  Diane Feinstein and others have tried to push the ban through Congress since then, but their best chance was during the 2009-2010 session.  Instead, they were bogged down in health care legislation.  Of course, there are those who would say that this assault weapons ban was a call to arms that helped fuel the Republican take-over of Congress.

The problem today is that most Americans are comfortable with guns.  You look at any national poll and you would be hard pressed to find a majority in favor in sweeping federal gun legislation, even renewing a ban on assault weapons.  The Republicans have effectively managed to make the use of guns a "safety issue."  The net result is that one of three households in this country has at least one firearm.  It is highly unlikely that this mood is going to shift in light of the recent shootings in San Bernardino.

Hillary and Martin are playing to their constituencies, and will continue to promote tougher gun legislation on the campaign trail, and use it at debates to rattle Bernie, who would prefer to talk about the economy.  However, this is a slippery slope for Democrats in a general election, in which it only takes one wedge issue to tip the balance.  Bernie recognizes this and is hoping to keep the discussion on the vast income disparities in this country, which cut across the party lines.  Why give the Republicans the gun issue, which they can easily exploit to their favor.

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