Untold Story of Election 2008: The Death of the NRA
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Last month, voters across the country took a cue from the late Charlton Heston and pried the assault weapon from the NRA's cold, dead hands.
Although the gun group unleashed everything in its arsenal to defeat Barack Obama and dozens of down ticket gun-control candidates, it lost by a margin as historic as the war chest it opened in an attempt to convince voters that Democrats were mortal enemies of the Second Amendment. Despite expending nearly $7 million in a national fear campaign, NRA-endorsed candidates lost 80 percent of their races against gun-control candidates. More than 90 percent of candidates endorsed by the NRA's nemesis, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, won their races. If 2008 was, in the NRA's own words, "arguably the most important year in its history," then the election results suggest that the gun group is arguably the most overhyped and impotent special-interest lobby in the country. The NRA even got its chamber cleaned in its home state of Virginia.
The sweeping victory for gun control has been one of the most underreported stories of the election. This is largely because it was immediately overshadowed by the trendy postelection narrative of spiking gun sales and runs on assault weapons. In recent weeks, it seems as if every TV news program and newspaper in the country has featured some variation on the following story: Anxious Americans are cleaning out their local gun stores in anticipation of a.) Barack Obama's radical anti-gun agenda; b.) social chaos engendered by economic collapse; or c.) both.
No doubt thousands of paranoid gun owners have purchased Glocks and AR-15 assault rifles out of such fears. And it is true that the economic crisis has fueled an interest in personal protection and even Northern Idaho-style survivalism. But sensational stories about booming holiday-season gun sales obscure a more profound phenomenon: the coalescence of a new consensus, joined by the majority of the nation's gun owners, in favor of what gun controllers call "commonsense reform." A subtext of this phenomenon is the evaporation, first witnessed in 2006 and reinforced last month, of the idea that guns are a sure thing conservative wedge issue.
Nobody can accuse Obama of campaigning dishonestly on the issue of gun control. The nation's first modern urban president repeatedly explained that his understanding of the Second Amendment included the need for restrictions aimed at reducing gun violence, especially in the cities. In a sign that he intended to win on the issue by shooting straight with voters, he even mentioned his gun-control agenda during his Denver acceptance speech, challenging the idea that gun control was a third rail that guaranteed defeat in states like Ohio and Virginia.
As codified in his urban policy platform, Obama consistently advocated for increasing law enforcement's ability to trace guns by reinstituting tracking legislation repealed by the Bush administration; closing the famous "gun show loophole" that allows gun buyers to avoid background checks; mandating additional safety features on U.S.-manufactured guns; and resurrecting the expired ban on assault weapons and making it permanent.
Needless to say, every plank of this agenda is vigorously opposed by the NRA (spokespersons for whom did not return repeated requests for comment).
Gun control is not a front-burner issue for an incoming administration faced with economic crisis and two wars, but the NRA is right to be worried. Not only do Obama and Biden have strong gun control records, the incoming attorney general is a one-man gun control lobby unto himself. As deputy A.G. in the Clinton administration, Eric Holder advocated federal licensing requirements for handguns, a three-day waiting period on some gun sales and rationing handgun sales to no more than one per month. More recently, he signed an amicus brief in support of the District of Columbia's handgun ban when it came before the Supreme Court. The conservative site newsmax.com calls Holder a "gun control nightmare."