Pelosi doesn't want to restore assault weapons ban

The Obama administration wants to bring the law back, but the House speaker nixed the idea, and it'd be hard to get Democrats on board anyway.

Published February 27, 2009 12:40AM (EST)

On Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Obama administration would like to bring back the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. The idea managed to last just one day before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared it dead.

"On that score, I think we need to enforce the laws we have right now," Pelosi, borrowing standard pro-gun language, said at her regular news conference on Thursday.

Though it's surprising to hear that from Pelosi, it's not at all shocking to see Congressional Democrats pushing back against new gun control measures. As I wrote in a 2007 article following the shooting at Virginia Tech, since 2000 Democrats have essentially abandoned gun control as an issue. They couldn't even muster the political will to keep the ban from expiring in 2004, despite its overwhelming popularity. (One survey found that 71 percent of people in households without guns supported the law; so did 64 percent of people in households with guns.)

There are multiple reasons for the shift in the party's stance on guns. First, there was a widespread -- though factually shaky -- belief that the issue l had played a major role in former Vice President Al Gore's defeat in 2000. There's also a fear about what a strong pro-gun control stance could do to Democrats' support in key states and among union members, and the fact that on this issue pro-gun voters are far more motivated and much likelier to be single-issue voters than those on the other side of the debate. Finally, there's the influx of pro-gun politicians into positions of power within the party.

For a look at how this dynamic plays out, you need look no further than a vote that took place on the floor of the Senate today. 22 Democrats joined almost all of their Republican colleagues in supporting an amendment that repeals Washington, D.C.'s ban on semi-automatic weapons and says its local government  "shall not have authority to enact laws or regulations that discourage or eliminate the private ownership or use of firearms."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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Eric Holder Gun Control Guns Nancy Pelosi D-calif.