Pro-Gun Backlash to Newtown Could Help Elect Republicans

Unlike Climate Change, Gun Control Can Move U.S. Voters

getty images

By J.J. Goldberg

Published February 13, 2013, issue of February 15, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Two devastating tragedies struck the American northeast last fall with a deadly force that riveted the nation’s collective imagination, battered our conscience and rewrote our national agenda. One was the massive destruction of Superstorm Sandy. The other was the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Sandy and Sandy Hook. They came at a pivotal moment in our national conversation. Both have had profound implications for American politics. Sandy made landfall October 29. Within days it had driven home to millions of victims and onlookers the bankruptcy of Republican positions on climate change. Attitudes toward climate science changed overnight, creating a potential opening for a renewed legislative initiative. That, plus President Obama’s coolly presidential response at a time of crisis, helped reelect him to a second term a week later.

Sandy Hook, six weeks later on December 14, struck our emotions like a lightning bolt and swept every other topic off the table. The president let it be known that it was the worst day of his presidency, that the massacre of the children had touched him at his core like no other event since he took office. In the weeks since then, he and his allies have set out with a passion rarely seen in this White House to win new gun control legislation. The fate of the new laws is hard to predict, but one outcome seems almost inevitable: a Republican takeover of the Senate in 2014.

Too harsh? Hardly. It’s just a straightforward reading of gun law history and the current political landscape. Gun legislation, or its backlash, can and does help to tip close elections. It happened in 1994, when the Democratic-led House passed the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban and promptly fell to Republican control for the first time in 40 years. Were the gun laws the main cause of the upset? No. But they contributed.

It happened again in 1999, a month after the Columbine shooting, when Vice President Al Gore cast the deciding vote on a Senate bill requiring background checks at gun shows. The bill died in the House, but Gore went on to lose his presidential bid the next year in an agonizingly close race where every vote counted. Was his gun vote the main reason for his defeat? No. But it contributed.

It happened most famously and decisively in 1982 in California, where Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley was strongly favored to become the state’s first black governor. Unfortunately for Bradley, the ballot also included an initiative, Proposition 15, requiring registration of handguns. The proposition brought out tens of thousands of gun-owners who rarely voted, but who went to the polls to protect their weapons — and while they were at it, voted against Bradley.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.