On The Political Front: Calif. Mass Shooting Reignites Gun Debate

Dec 7, 2015

Credit flickr/barjack

NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers joins Morning Edition most Monday mornings for "On The Political Front."

As we’ve been hearing all morning, President Obama addressed the nation from the Oval Office last night. He talked mostly about how to combat ISIS, but along the way, the President also called for tighter gun laws -- specifically, barring those on the terrorist watch, or “no-fly” list from being able to buy guns.  He also called for a ban of the sale of semi-automatic, assault-style weapons.

Yes, both policies would, in the President’s estimation, “make it harder for terrorists to kill.” Both are also ideas Democrats in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail have been talking up of late. Democrats in the U.S. Senate tried to tack an amendment barring those on the watch-list from buying guns to GOP bill on Obamacare. It failed 45-54, with one Republican - Mark Kirk of Illinois - voting with Democrats. And I think that’s a pretty good indication of the battle lines on this issue. Democrats favor tightening current gun laws and Republicans don’t.

Yes. And New Hampshire Democrats were quick to go after Kelly Ayotte for voting with her party on this one.

Kelly Ayotte
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

And also another amendment that would have required universal background checks for gun purchases, which also failed. Though four Republicans went for it: John McCain and Susan Collins, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and again Mark Kirk of Illinois. But last night after the President’s speech was over, Senator Ayotte did take to Twitter to suggest we “come together” to stop those on the no-fly list from buying guns, with due process for Americans who are wrongly on the list.”  We’ll see where this goes. 

So expect lots of talk on this from Democrats in an election year.

Sure. Lots of talk about what they tend to term “common sense” safety polices. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders used that phrase last week. And he’s an interesting one on this issue, because he hasn’t been a big gun control guy – Vermont, of course has next to no gun laws. But Sanders will also tell you he doesn’t think tougher expect gun laws would significantly affect the risk of mass shootings in this country. When Sanders visited NHPR for an interview late last week he indicated some skepticism that laws alone would dramatically reduce incidents of mass shootings. 

And the campaign of Hillary Clinton certainly thinks Sanders' comparably laissez faire record on guns is a vulnerability.

Well, it’s one of the few issues where Sanders’ record – he voted against the Brady bill for instance, and backed giving gun owners and sellers liability protections - falls well outside the Democratic mainstream. More broadly, though, what is interesting to watch,  is Democrats going on the offensive guns -- period. Gun control has never been an issue that’s benefited them much politically. It’s possible that times are changing. Campaigning in Keene earlier this fall, 

Bernie Sanders
Credit Sara Plourde for NHPR

  Hillary Clinton even indicated she’d be open to a national gun buyback program, possibly even a mandatory one -- real fighting words to pro-gun types. I might add I haven’t heard Clinton mention it since. But in all of this, and despite recent the string of mass shootings, it’s also worth noting that gun homicides in this country, have actually been falling for more than a decade. It may not seem or feel like that’s the case, but according to the Pew research center, The nation’s overall gun death rate has declined 30 percent since 1993, which is interesting, even if it’s not the perception.

So presidential candidates are talking guns. The issue is already part of New Hampshire’s U.S. Senate race. How much attention will it get in Concord?

It will certainly get some. Guns are have almost always been a contested issue at the Statehouse, some years more than others. But bills have been filed that will, at a minimum, stir lots of debate. Republicans will take another run at eliminating the requirement that people get a permit to carry a concealed weapon. This measure was vetoed by Gov. Hassan back in July. Expect a similar result of it gets to her again. Another bill looks to ban state universities, intuitions or entities funded by the state – think UNH – from regulating gun possession. There are also some Democratically-sponsored bills, to increase background checks, which isn’t new. But some are new. One I don’t think legislators have heard before would require gun owners to carry liability insurance. No bill to limit gun rights will have an easy go in the GOP-controlled Legislature, but the discussions are sure to be interesting, and carry over to election season.