Democrats Can’t Blame Guns for ’94 Losses

Bill Clinto (cc photo: Thomas Shahan)

Were gun laws his downfall in 1994? (cc photo: Thomas Shahan)

There are perhaps plenty of lessons in the (most recent) Senate failure to pass even modest new restrictions/regulations on gun ownership. But one lesson needs to be resisted: The idea that passing a more expansive gun control law in 1994 came back to bite Democrats in the midterm elections.

That theory was presented as fact by Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times (4/18/13):

But after the vote for the assault weapons ban cost Democrats seats in 1994, red-state Democrats have steered clear of gun safety measures, judging that the political fury of opponents would not be offset by support from those who favor tighter controls.

If the cause of Democrats’ ’94 electoral losses were that clear, then obviously they’d want to keep their distance from anything like that. But we re guns really the issue in 1994?  Plenty of analysts think not; this U.S. News & World Report (1/17/13) runs down some of the research, which points out that most of the seats lost were in Republican-leaning districts, and there were a number of other big issues–including the healthcare debate,  NAFTA and a soft economy. Writing in the American Prospect (2/22/12), Paul Waldman took a look at some of these NRA myths. 

And on the New York Times editorial page (5/9/09), Dorothy Samuels wrote:

It is hard to make a case that the assault weapons ban was decisive in 1994.

The law certainly enraged many NRA members and might explain the loss of certain Democratic seats. However, there were other major factors in the Democrats’ 1994 loss, starting with perceived Democratic arrogance and corruption. (Overdrafts at the House bank came to symbolize that.)

Add to that voter unhappiness with Mr. Clinton’s budget, his healthcare fiasco, the Republican Party’s success in recruiting appealing candidates, and that ingenious Republican vehicle for nationalizing the elections known as the “Contract With America.” The contract, by the way, did not mention guns.

As Waldman argues, the people who most loudly champion the electoral power of the National Rifle Association are the National Rifle Association. These mythologies shouldn’t be treated as facts. 

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.