Guns could be the answer for Democrats in November — if they have a plan

Democrats want to talk about guns in swing districts, but not in conservative areas

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published March 1, 2018 12:03PM (EST)

Voters wait in line outside a polling place in Cincinnati   (AP/John Minchillo)
Voters wait in line outside a polling place in Cincinnati (AP/John Minchillo)

For the last 40 years, anti-gun control groups like the NRA have been using their signature issue to mobilize voters for the Republican Party. Now that a series of mass shootings has increased public support for stricter gun control laws, Democrats are beginning to wonder if they should use pro-gun control campaigning to help them win in November.

A number of Democratic campaign operatives have decided that the plan is to use the issue to attack Republican candidates who accept NRA money and oppose common sense gun control in certain states and House districts, even as they avoid the issue in redder areas of the country, according to Politico. The challenge will be making sure that Democrats don't alienate voters in more conservative districts who, though possibly inclined to support a Democratic candidate, are staunchly opposed to gun control.

"At times you have to look at yourself in the mirror and do the right thing and say forget about the political consequences," Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Ariz., told Politico. Because O'Halleran is running in a Republican-leaning district, he has previously supported expanding background checks but opposed banning assault weapons. He expressed concern that he could pay a heavy political price if he is perceived as conceding too much to gun control advocates.

A 68 percent majority of Americans support strengthening gun control measures after the Parkland school shooting, according to a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll.

By contrast, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., told Politico that he would be willing to consider gun control measures if the president does so as well. He described himself as a "realist" who recognizes that the issue was ultimately in "[Trump’s] ball park." Because Manchin is from a conservative state, however, he was unwilling to do more on the issue unless he knew Trump would follow suit. On the other hand, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., exuded optimism about the future of gun control, declaring on Wednesday that "the days of the NRA getting everything they want seem to be over."

Democrats have certainly been trying to take advantage of Trump's recently expressed willingness to consider gun control positions that have traditionally been verboten among Republicans, such as strengthening background checks or confiscating guns without due process from certain individuals ineligible to possess them. Sens. Manchin and Murphy also made a point of praising Trump's leadership skills and ability to force Republicans to come to the table for gun control during a bipartisan White House meeting on Wednesday — political leaders have typically praised Trump in order to convince him to go along with their agenda.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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2018 Midterm Elections Democratic Party Donald Trump Gun Control