It seems a lot longer ago than just eight months. Back on January 16 of this year, President Obama sounded what was intended to be the keynote of his second term by saying that he intended to introduce a raft of legislative proposals intended to tighten controls of gun ownership. With the memory of the slaughter of little children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School by a mad lone gunman fresh in the minds of the new Congress, some believed he would succeed in not only getting gun-control bills passed but also in routing the National Rifle Association in such a manner as to break their hold on Washington power forever. With new anti-gun groups led by billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords spending big bucks to promote the issue, the NRA’s days were supposed to be numbered. But in the intervening months, the groundswell of passion on behalf of background-checks laws and other measures turned out to be nothing more than a figment of the imagination of the liberal mainstream media that relentlessly backed Obama’s play on guns.
Any lingering doubt that the gun-control moment has passed was removed last night when two Democratic state senators in Colorado were removed from office by a recall vote because of their support for new gun legislation. Despite benefiting from the infusion of more than $3 million in outside contributions from anti-gun groups, including $300,000 from Bloomberg, the pair—State Senate President John Morse and Angela Giron—was beaten by Republicans in the recall vote. What’s more, though the two Democrats were the focus of fierce opposition by the NRA, as I noted when I first wrote about these races back in July, the Democrats had a clear financial advantage in the race. The guns-rights lobby’s only advantage was in being able to mobilize a grass-roots movement.
Liberals are attempting to spin their defeat as the result of local politics and resentment about the interference of New York’s champion of nanny-state regulations in Colorado. But they’re fooling no one. Like the battle to get the U.S. Senate to pass even a watered-down version of a background checks proposal, the recall vote was a test of will between the NRA and the anti-gun movement and the former won hands down. Though terrible events like Newtown shock the nation and polls show majorities back some regulatory measures, the notion that support for Second Amendment rights has waned is simply untrue.
While the power shift in the Colorado legislature isn’t enough to force a repeal of the bills Morse helped force down the legislature’s throat last winter, the symbolic value of the defeat suffered by anti-gun groups will resonate throughout the country.
That’s something liberals, especially those in the media who embraced this issue wholeheartedly last winter, are finding it hard to accept. Though the president has since moved onto other disasters—a spring of scandals and the Syria debacle—his failure on gun legislation represents a fundamental misreading of America’s political culture on the part of most liberals. They assumed that grief over Newtown had changed public opinion about guns. That perception was reinforced by the NRA’s initial ham-handed response to the incident and the newly reelected president’s decision to ruthlessly exploit Sandy Hook and the families of the victims in order to pressure Congress to give him what he wanted.
But no matter how often he waved the bloody shirt of Newtown in order to shame members of the House and Senate into passing laws that would have done nothing to avert that massacre, there was no real appetite in either chamber for his proposals.
While the NRA took its lumps in the months after Newtown, the group actually experienced a surge in membership and support that more than compensated for the drubbing they got in the mainstream press. Though liberals, including the president, falsely asserted that NRA support was merely the function of donations from gun manufacturers, it remained something that the anti-gun groups were not: a genuine grass-roots organization that could generate intense activity from its members when they were called upon.
That’s why the Colorado votes were so important. They showed that even when outgunned by outside money, gun-rights advocates have an ace in the hole that Bloomberg can’t match: passionate supporters on the ground who can turn out and vote.
I doubt we’ve heard the last of Obama and his liberal supporters on this issue. They will return to it, as they always do, anytime a crime that can generate unthinking outrage about guns is committed. But media hype is never a match for a public determined not be stripped of their constitutional rights. The anti-gun tide that was supposed to sweep away the NRA has instead swept away two Democrats. Don’t bet that they will be the last to lose their seats because they believed Obama when he said the NRA was whipped.