Let’s give a cheer for Nina Gonzalez, the woman who asked Mitt Romney and President Obama about gun control at the second presidential debate.
People, have you noticed how regularly this topic fails to come up? We have been having this campaign since the dawn of the ice age. Why wasn’t there a gun control moment before now?
True, the candidates were asked about it after the horrific blood baths last summer in Colorado and Wisconsin. But there have been 43 American mass shootings in the last year. Wouldn’t you think that would qualify guns for a more regular mention?
“I felt very empowered,” said Gonzalez, a 57-year-old mental health practitioner from Long Island. We were talking on the phone a few days after the debate. She had been fielding calls from strangers who were eager to give her their opinion about guns, and she still couldn’t quite understand why the candidates were less enthusiastic. “What’s the problem?” she asked.
Democrats running for national office are terrified of the whole subject. Party lore has it that passing the assault weapons ban in 1994 cost them control of Congress and Al Gore’s election. (There is ample evidence that this isn’t true, but that’s what makes it lore.)
So Obama, a vocal gun control supporter in his Chicago days, is now a gun control nonmentioner. And, when it comes to legislation in Congress, a nonhelper.
Republicans are usually eager to bring up gun control, the better to denounce it. But Mitt Romney has — surprise! — a complicated history of policy molt on the issue. He was once on the same page as Ted Kennedy, and then the page turned.
For purposes of running for president, Romney is against new gun laws. And he would rather not have any discussions that lead to a mention of his pre-molt state. Or the fact that he once unsuccessfully attempted to woo rural voters by recounting his skill as a hunter of “small varmints.”
Into all this stepped Gonzalez, who was haunted by the Colorado theater shooting in July that killed 12 people. The gunman carried a 100-bullet assault rifle. The ban on assault weapons, which allow you to fire as fast as you can keep pulling the trigger, expired in 2004. Congress has been afraid to renew it because, you know, there’s the lore.
“What has your administration done or planned to do to limit the availability of assault weapons?” Gonzalez asked Obama.
“You know, we’re a nation that believes in the Second Amendment,” Obama began. “And I believe in the Second Amendment. You know, we’ve got a long tradition of hunting. . . .”
When in doubt, say something nice about hunters.
The president signaled that he favors renewing the ban by saying that weapons designed for soldiers at war “do not belong on our streets.” Then he swerved away to the importance of better law enforcement, good schools and faith groups that work with inner-city children.
That was pretty much it for the guns, except that Obama did call for getting “automatic weapons that kill folks in amazing numbers out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.” Actually, automatic weapons, like machine guns, are already heavily regulated. Although, in a different world, we would be discussing why they’re in the country at all.