The politics of gun control are shifting. Democrats have long feared that loudly advocating for stricter gun laws, and attacking the gun lobby, would cost them elections. But now President Obama and Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton are unapologetically picking a fight with the National Rifle Association.
At a televised town hall on gun control Thursday, Obama accused the NRA of having “a stranglehold on Congress.” Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, Clinton has vowed to take on the gun lobby. “The safety of our families is more important than the interests of the NRA. Full stop,” the candidate’s twitter account declared at the end of the president’s town hall.
That criticism reflects a strategic calculation: Democrats are increasingly convinced that gun control may not be so politically toxic after all. At least some are willing to bet that the NRA is not the threat they once believed. But a push for tightening regulations on firearms has the potential to make the gun lobby even stronger.
When Americans fear the government may be on the verge of confiscating guns, they rush to buy more. The president’s calls for gun control also create an opening for the gun lobby to make highly-charged appeals to their members. Gun owners may feel motivated to write checks to gun rights organizations if they worry that their Second Amendment rights are threatened. That’s good for firearms dealers and manufacturers, and good for the gun lobby.