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Dennis A. Henigan

Dennis A. Henigan

Posted: September 15, 2009 11:31 AM

Obama and the Gun Lobby: A Policy of Appeasement?

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"Appeasement." What word better describes the current attitude of the Obama administration, and many in the Democratic Party, toward the gun lobby?

The word recently was invoked by syndicated columnist Marie Cocco referring to the approach of the White House to the gun issue. "Obama and the Democrats haven't stared down the gun lobby," she wrote. "They've enabled it."

Is it a stretch to envision President Obama as the Neville Chamberlain of the gun issue? Consider the record so far. The President broke his campaign pledge to seek repeal of a set of Bush-supported appropriations riders (the "Tiahrt Amendments") that have weakened the Brady Act and other federal gun laws. Despite his personal commitment to voting rights for District of Columbia residents, Obama was silent as the NRA held the voting rights bill hostage to its vision of the District with virtually no gun laws. With not a syllable uttered in protest, the President signed credit card reform legislation laden with Senator Coburn's ridiculous amendment to allow loaded guns in national parks. When Attorney General Holder and Secretary of State Clinton suggested that strengthening U.S. gun laws may well help to reduce the arming of Mexican drug cartels with American guns, they were silenced. Then, in surely the most bizarre example, when protesters started showing up near the President's speeches with loaded guns, instead of condemning the practice, the White House responded that it had no problem with it as long as local laws were not being violated.

The guiding principle of the Obama gun policy seems to be: whatever happens, don't rile up the gun guys.

Of course, it is worth noting that the gun guys are determined to get riled up, no matter how weak the administration is on guns. The NRA's "Obama is coming to get your guns" message has continued unabated, inspiring record breaking gun sales despite the administration's "do nothing, say nothing" approach.

The real problem, of course, is that there is no end to the gun lobby's demands. The more you feed the beast, the more it will want. Yesterday, it was eviscerating D.C.'s gun laws and allowing guns in Yosemite; tomorrow it will be limiting ATF's power to crack down on corrupt gun dealers. The forces of reason in the Senate narrowly blocked the NRA's attempt to weaken state restrictions on carrying of concealed weapons, but this wretched proposal will no doubt be back in some form.

The question is: When will the Obama administration and Congressional Democratic leaders make a stand? They have just witnessed the NRA doing everything in its power to defeat the President's first Supreme Court nominee. They have heard the NRA's silence as gun-wielding protesters use the tactics of intimidation to oppose Obama's health care reforms. What does the "gun rights" crowd have to do before the President says, "enough is enough"?

Like the rest of the political right, the NRA is determined to see Obama fail. As Marie Cocco argued, it is absurd for Obama and the Democratic leadership to believe that "if they just try to get along with the gun lobby, the gun lobby will get along with them." The gun lobby cannot be stopped by giving it the ground it seeks today, because it will seek even more tomorrow.

On the gun issue, isn't it time for Obama and the Democrats to replace appeasement with resistance?

For more information, see Dennis Henigan's new book, Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths that Paralyze American Gun Policy.