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Obama and the Democrats Keep Ducking Gun Control: Should We?

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"In this country, we have a strong tradition of gun ownership that's handed from generation to generation. Hunting and shooting are part of our national heritage. And, in fact, my administration has not curtailed the rights of gun owners -- it has expanded them, including allowing people to carry their guns in national parks and wildlife refuges."

That wasn't Ronald Reagan speaking, or even George W. Bush. It was Barack Obama in an op-ed published in March 2011. Obama, like so many Democrats these days, is running scared on the issue of gun control; one reason, despite last week's horrific killings in Aurora, Colorado, that you haven't heard a peep from him, or from his party on this issue.

And don't expect to hear anything, either. With Obama's standing among white working class voters at a record low, any hint of concern about the proliferation of weapons, especially in a key battleground state like Colorado, is simply out of the question.

You may not have noticed, but gun sales are booming these days. 2011 was another record breaking year, with Americans purchasing some 10.8 million firearms, a 14% increase over 2010, and up 50% from ten years ago. Expect sales in 2012 to push even higher. Surveys among gun store owners and statistics on firearm background checks, among other sources, confirm that America's interest in gun ownership is growing exponentially.

Polls also confirm the trend. Earlier this year, Gallup found that only 26 percent of Americans favored a ban on the possession of handguns, a record low. Compare that to 50 years ago, when more than 60 percent favored banning handguns. Apparently, owning a gun has become as American as apple pie.

To say that gun control liberals are dismayed -- and deeply disappointed with Obama -- would be putting it mildly. In 2009, the watchdog group FactCheck.org said, "We've seen little or no evidence that the Obama administration is doing much to regulate guns or gun ownership." A year later, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence gave the president a failing report card. One of Obama's seven "F" grades was for "not standing up to the gun lobby."

Consider how Obama failed to capitalize on the deadly shooting that nearly killed Rep. Gabrielle "Gabby" Giffords in her Tucson Arizona congressional district last year. The situation seemed tailor-made, perhaps, for a new push to address gun violence issues. Even some Republicans were criticizing former Alaska governor Sarah Palin for having targeted Giffords with rhetoric and imagery that to them seemed calculated to stir up the militant animosity of the country's right-wing fringe.

Democrats did go after Palin politically, and the Tea Party diva issued a rare public apology. But Obama himself merely suggested tougher background checks and registration requirements for prospective gun owners, not an actual restriction on gun sales. The issue quickly disappeared.

As president, Obama is a far cry from the hard-charging senator who in 2004 called for a permanent ban on the sale of assault weapons, such as the AR-15 used in last week's attack. But starting with Al Gore in 2000, all but the bravest Democrats have learned that gun control can be more toxic for their party than immigration or even abortion, especially with so many working class base voters supporting gun ownership.

Obama himself found this out the hard way during the 2008 Democratic primary campaign when he made the mistake of telling donors in liberal San Francisco that some Americans were "still clinging to their guns and religion" as a way of coping with the stress of a deteriorating economy and growing cultural diversity. The public response was swift and damaging, and for a while it seemed that the gaffe might cost Obama the nomination.

But that hardly explains why Obama felt compelled to accede to pressure to allow firearms to be carried in national parks and wildlife refuges. After all, we weren't talking about park rangers or state police carrying firearms -- that goes without saying -- but ordinary citizens. Pressure came from the National Rifle Association, but if Obama thought it might appease the gun lobby, he was dead wrong. He's the most pro-gun Democratic president in recent memory but he's still being accused of harboring a "secret plan" to abolish all hand guns.

The fact is, gun violence has become an extraordinarily difficult issue for Democrats to get a handle on. Even as gun sales increase, FBI statistics show that the incidence of gun-related crime in major metropolitan areas is sharply down these days, which seems to challenge the liberal argument that easy access to guns makes gun violence more likely.

And yet extraordinary incidents and shooting "sprees," including a series of deadly attacks on college campuses, are beginning to shock the national psyche, leaving some citizens in a near-panic when simply leaving their homes. There is a palpable and growing sense of fear among many Americans that our culture is becoming angrier, less tolerant and more bellicose. And even if gun killings are down overall, statistics suggest that bullying, hate crimes and domestic violence are all on the rise.

Even Mitt Romney, ever the master flip-flopper, used to support a ban on assault weapons. He's back firmly in the NRA camp these days, of course. And truth be told, perhaps stricter gun control laws aren't the only solution to breaking the cycle of violence. But isn't it time our national leadership helped us figure out what is?