The Gun Vote

By Gerard Valentino

(This commentary has also been published at!

Much like most members of the establishment media don’t know anyone that voted for President Bush they also don’t know anyone that admits to owning a gun. For many the only exposure they have to guns, and gun owners, is when they are covering a murder or working to sensationalize the rare case when a child is accidentally killed by gunfire.

The establishment media has therefore tried to downplay the role of the pro-gun movement by attempting to create the impression that gun owners are camouflage wearing militia members on the fringe of society. Their attempt has failed because soccer moms, real estate agents, lawyers, and teachers own guns. Even the sweet little old lady standing behind you in line at the grocery store is often carrying a gun as well.

To their own detriment, many politicians buy into the establishment media’s rhetoric on guns. These politicians see the gun issue as secondary to other so-called important issues like the economy or education. They do so because of a lack of understanding about how strongly gun owners feel about keeping their guns and lessening restrictive gun laws.

Groups that represent more so-called main stream issues like taxes or health care can’t muster the votes equal to the NRA because their issue is diluted by other competing interests. Yet gun owners remain by far the most devoted voting block in American politics. Such a devotion to the gun issue creates for the NRA, and other pro-gun organizations, a lobbying power out of all proportion to the size of their membership.

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Although it seems like an easy task it is also all but impossible to rally people to an anti-tax movement because the average voter feels tax increases are inevitable. When you add in that only 50% of eligible voters can be bothered to show up at the polls it gives a disproportionate of power to a group that votes en masse. Gun owners are that group and can swing elections because most vote their gun-rights first and consider other issues second.

Gun groups are also distinct in that they haven’t sold out to one political party or the other. Looking through the NRA’s endorsement list you will find a surprising number of democrats, and even some independents.

In contrast, the National Organization for Women, and Labor Unions, are relegated to being a shill for the Democrats, regardless of whether the given Democratic candidate is strong pro-union, or guilty of sexually harassing an intern.

Both groups have seen their political power wane as a result. Yet during that same period the power of the gun lobby has grown.

The labor movement in particular has been severely damaged by their willingness to sell-out to the Democrats because a large percentage of union members are sportsmen and gun owners. Therefore, many union members refuse to follow the union’s endorsement of anti-gun candidates like John Kerry. There is no doubt that such a situation probably cost him Ohio, and therefore the presidency, in 2004.

The belief that the electorate votes the economy, or education, or health care doesn’t hold true for gun owners. Therefore, with the electorate evenly split, it becomes even more important for candidates to court the gun vote and support gun-rights while in office.

President Bush almost learned this lesson painfully prior to the 2004 presidential election when he said he would sign a renewal of the Clinton Assault Weapons Ban if it reached his desk. Bush’s statements, given with full knowledge that the renewal legislation would never get out of the House of Representatives, still caused problems because it gave credence to anti-gun movement’s calls to renew the ban.

Luckily, the Democrats nominated notorious gun-grabber John Kerry and rescued Bush from himself.

Included in the frontrunners for the 2008 republican presidential primary are several anti-gun candidates. John McCain has worked for years to close the non-existent gun show loophole and has tried to outlaw gun shows completely. Rudolph Giuliani also has an anti-gun background cultivated as New York’s Attorney General and mayor of New York City.

Union voters would have trouble telling Giuliani or McCain from most Democrat candidates, and if the gun issue is removed from consideration they are more likely to vote on other issues that in their eyes would not favor Republicans.

To think it can’t happen is to underestimate not only the significance of the gun vote, but also how quickly the political arena can change. A year ago it was accepted that Ohio’s GOP would continue their electoral dominance but their willingness to take the gun vote for granted combined with several scandals and Bob Taft’s abysmal 15% approval rating have given the Democrats hope.

If pro-gun democrat Ted Strickland wins their gubernatorial primary things could get interesting because the large number of pro-gun union voters in Ohio will now have a candidate that supports their views on labor and gun control. The same thing can happen at the national level if the Democrats pick a nominee neutral on guns and the Republicans continue their run to the middle.

While that seems like a long-shot, a year ago it also seemed like a long shot in Ohio. Yet Ohio’s GOP is in trouble and they are painfully learning the consequence of shunning the gun vote.

We can only hope the national party won’t make the same mistake.

Gerard Valentino is the Central Ohio Chair for the Buckeye Firearms Association.

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