Gun regulation is not a 'liberal base' issue, John King

 

On June 17, CNN hosted a town hall at the Newseum in Washington with former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonSanders campaign manager: Stop chanting ‘lock her up' DWS did right thing, says Sanders campaign manager Poll: Clinton holds narrow 2-point lead over Trump MORE. The ostensible occasion for the event was the publication of Clinton's new book but, of course, the real draw was the opportunity to see a likely candidate for the presidency in 2016. I was in the audience, and was hoping to get the chance to ask Clinton what she thinks about the president's constitutional authority to order the offensive use of military force without congressional approval. I didn't get to ask my question, but was interested to hear Clinton discuss the current crises in Iraq and Syria. Although she was not precise on this point, it certainly sounded like she believes the president has the authority to order the use of military force in Iraq without congressional approval as long as ground troops aren't involved. I disagree with that position — the Constitution only permits presidents to act unilaterally in self-defense, during an emergency when there is no time to seek advance approval from Congress (circumstances that fortunately aren't present in either Iraq or Syria).

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Clinton also took questions about domestic issues. One woman, a teacher from Maryland, asked about gun violence. Clinton spoke forcefully on the issue, declaring that "We cannot let a minority of people — and that's what it is, it is a minority of people — hold a viewpoint that terrorizes the majority of people. ... We're going to have to do a better job protecting the vast majority of our citizens, including our children, from that very, very, very small group that is unfortunately prone to violence and now with automatic [sic] weapons can wreak so much more violence than they ever could have before." Clinton expressed support for a renewed national ban on assault weapons, a ban on high-capacity magazines, and closing the private sale or "gun show" loophole in the nation's background check system.

After Clinton finished taking questions, CNN held a post-town hall discussion to analyze what she said. John King, CNN's chief national correspondent, remarked that Clinton "was certainly with the liberal base on guns [when she spoke]," unlike on other issues, where King said Clinton "was more in the center."

King has his facts wrong. The positions Clinton staked out on gun regulation — support for closing the background check loophole, an assault weapon ban, and a ban on high-capacity magazines — are, in fact, positions very much in the center. A recent national poll by the University of Massachusetts at Lowell shows 80 percent "favoring closing the gun show loophole." This poll is hardly an outlier: Polling in recent years has consistently shown supermajority support for closing the loophole (sometimes at rates even higher than 80 percent). Both Republicans and Democrats support this proposal, at almost an identical rate. Polling in 2013 showed that even 74 percent of NRA members support universal background checks.

Polling has also shown public support for an assault weapons ban — this is not as popular as closing the gun show loophole, but still commands majority support in most polling. Similarly, most polling shows majority support for a ban on the sale and possession of high-capacity magazines — again, not at the supermajority level seen for closing the gun show loophole, but still typically at more than 50 percent, sometimes with majority support from both Republicans and Democrats.

Now, the fact that majorities support these proposals does not necessarily mean they are all good ideas. However, proposals with consistent support from a majority of Americans (and, sometimes, from a majority of Republicans) cannot reasonably be described as red meat for the liberal base. The positions Clinton took can reasonably be described as mainstream or centrist — she is not calling for a mass prohibition of guns, but rather, for limited, for the most part commonsense, regulations supported by most Americans. The real question is why proposals with mainstream support (most centrally, closing the gun show loophole) don't lead to successful legislation. However, if commentators like King assume this is just a question of partisan politics, they'll be missing the real story here: that the NRA has succeeded in turning what Clinton correctly described as a minority position into the law of the land.

Edelson is an assistant professor of government in American University's School of Public Affairs. He is the author of Emergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror, published in 2013 by the University of Wisconsin Press.

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