By Zak Johnson of Portland, Oregon. Zak is one of the co-founders of the Gun Owners Caucus of the Democratic Party of Oregon.
When asked why Al Gore didn't become president in January of 2001, most Democrats refer to the theft of Florida. Point taken. But Al Gore's campaign spokesman, Doug Hattaway, mentions another state--Tennessee. And the reason, says Hattaway, that Gore lost his home state of Tennessee--along with the rest of the South and the Intermountain West--was because of the gun issue.
As Democrats, we OWN the civil rights issue. The Bush administration daily violates the 1st, 4th, and 5th amendments (unless you consider confessions under torture not to be self-incrimination). Tom Delay's cronies continue to violate the 13th amendment in the U.S. Mariannas. It has never been clearer that the Democratic Party is the nation's primary defender of the Constitution. This is an unequivocal, easy-to-understand position that resonates with voters. It's a uniting position as well, one that should attract patriots to the Democratic banner.
But to promote that message requires consistency on the whole Constitution. Frankly, the Party's reputation on the 2nd Amendment is, as Montana Democratic Chairman Bob Ream has said, that people think we want to take their guns away. If you think Ream is wrong, ask yourself again about why Al Gore lost Tennessee or why Kerry lost the staunchly Democratic state of West Virginia (among others.) It's the gun issue.
The perception that Democrats are anti-gun also hurts the party badly among our natural constituencies like hunters, most of whom consider themselves environmentalists, and rural residents in general. But for the 32% of voters (according to a PEW poll) who will not vote for someone they perceive as disagreeing with them on the issue of gun control, it's not about hunting, or even about crime prevention and self-defense. It's about something deeper.
At the SCC meeting, I heard Jason Brown (Democratic nominee for Oregon House District 23) explain it this way:
"I'm a Quaker and would never personally own a gun," said Brown. "But it's [the right to bear arms] in the Constitution and there's a reason it's in there. It's what supports the right of the people to change their government."
Exactly. Supporting the 2nd Amendment is the key to supporting the rest of the Constitution. And supporting the Constitution--as it is written--is the key to supporting our national identity and the rule of law.
While, yes, there are some nationally prominent and a few local Democratic politicians who are outspoken in their desire to restrict gun ownership and carrying rights; the national party, the state party, and the rank and file Democrats in most districts have no impulse to curb 2nd Amendment rights.
This was amply demonstrated at the DPO state central committee meeting on Sept 9 where the party voted to found The Gun Owners Caucus of the Democratic Party of Oregon. This follows on the DPO SCC's passage last year of Resolution 2005-008, discussed here on Blue Oregon, which also clearly supports 2nd Amendment rights.
Jason Brown's support for the 2nd Amendment is echoed by every Democratic candidate I've spoken to about it this fall--Carol Voisin, Lee Coleman, Paul Evans, and on down the line.
It ought to be echoed by any Democrat who wants to do two things: support the Constitution and win elections. But relax. Read Resolution 2005-008; the DPO already is pro-2nd Amendment. And that's what the Gun Owners Caucus was founded to let people know.
Contact me if you want to help spread the word.