By Tim Devaney - 04/24/15 06:00 AM EDT
Gun-control advocates have high hopes for Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonJohnson faces tough crowd at Libertarian debate Sanders: Clinton shouldn't pick VP from Wall Street McAfee on chances of Libertarian win: 'We're not that stupid' MORE’s presidential run, viewing her as an ally who can finish the push for tightened background checks that has stalled in President Obama’s second term.
Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, has been a staunch advocate of gun-control proposals, such as expanding background checks and banning assault weapons. Last summer, she ripped groups that oppose those ideas as out of step with public opinion.
“We cannot let a minority of people, and that’s what it is, it is a minority of people, hold a view point that terrorizes the majority of people,” Clinton said during a CNN town-hall event.
“As Hillary runs for president, she has a tremendous opportunity to educate the American public about how effective background checks are and the need to finish the job,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Second Amendment advocates are equally energized by Clinton’s presidential bid.
Republican presidential contenders lambasted Clinton as a “gun grabber" in a series of speeches at the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) annual convention earlier this month.
“If Hillary Clinton is going to join with Barack ObamaBarack ObamaObama: 'Stop to reflect' on Memorial Day John Bolton slams Obama’s ‘shameful apology tour’ Miss. governor to join lawsuit against Obama transgender policy MORE and the gun grabbers and come after our guns, then what I say is, come and take it,” Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzMeet the billionaire donor behind Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker Party chairs see reversal of fortune McConnell: Trump White House will have ‘constraints’ MORE (R-Texas) who has declared his presidential candidacy, said at the convention.
Another Republican presidential contender, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), warned the NRA crowd about the “liberal, progressive worldview of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton … and all the other people who want to take the guns out of the hands of the good guys and the hands of the law-abiding citizens."
The extent to which Clinton embraces gun control in her White House bid remains to be seen.
While an emphasis on guns could help Clinton win over the left, it could prove to be a liability in several battleground states that could decide the presidential election.
For the first time in decades, a majority of Americans say it is more important to protect gun rights than it is to limit gun ownership, according to a December poll from the Pew Research Center.
The same Pew poll found that a slight majority of women now believe owning a handgun can protect them from becoming victims of crime.
This rising popularity of guns among women could help Republicans in swing states like Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina and New Hampshire, according to GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.
“Obviously, any way that Republicans can appeal to women, with Hillary Clinton on the other side of the ticket, it certainly can’t hurt,” O’Connell said.
Gun-control advocates say Clinton has nothing to fear and point to a Quinnipiac University poll from April 2013 that shows more than 90 percent of Americans supported expanded background checks.
“Background checks are more popular in the United States than baseball and kittens,” Gross said.
Clinton didn’t shy away from gun control during her last presidential run in 2008, floating a new ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
“I would also work to reinstate the assault weapons ban,” she said during a Democratic primary debate in January 2008. “We now have, once again, police deaths going up around the country, and in large measure, because bad guys now have assault weapons again.”
Last summer, she again pitched the assault weapons ban in the context of protecting school children.
"I don’t think any parent — any person — should have to fear about their child going to school or going to college because someone, for whatever reason — psychological, emotional, political, whatever it means — could possibly enter that school property with an automatic weapon and murder innocent children, students, teachers,” she said at the CNN town hall.
Clinton also campaigned for a national gun registry when she was running for the Senate in June 2000, though she later softened her position on the issue.
This time around, gun safety advocates want Clinton to make the case for keeping guns away from criminals, including domestic abusers and stalkers, as well as people who are mentally ill.
The policy prescription, advocates say, is closing loopholes that allow people to buy firearms at guns shows and online without going through a background check.
In April 2013, Congress rejected legislation from Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSenators to Obama: Make 'timely' call on Afghan troops levels Dem senator: Sanders ‘doesn’t have a lot of answers’ Groups urge Senate to oppose defense language on for-profit colleges MORE (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that would have tightened background check requirements. The bill, which was strongly backed by Obama, was put forward in response to the mass shooting of children at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
“I was disappointed that the Congress did not pass universal background checks after the horrors of the shootings at Sandy Hook,” Clinton said at the CNN town hall.
Since launching her presidential bid last week, Clinton has been on a “listening tour” through early voting states that she says will help her prepare for the presidential campaign. She has also appointed three senior policy advisers — Maya Harris, Ann O’Leary, and Jake Sullivan — to help her craft a policy platform.
Expanded background checks is a no-brainer for inclusion, gun-control advocates say.
“We need a president in the White House who is willing to stand up to the gun lobby,” said Mark Prentice, spokesman for Americans for Responsible Solutions.