"I PUBLIUS" originally appeared in The
Berkshire Eagle on Saturday, March 24, 2000 and is reproduced
here without permission.)
by Alan S. Chartock
Republicans trapped by gun issue
Guns are an American curse. The thought of one
more child killing another child with an unsecured handgun is too much
for sane, thinking people. The thought of another Columbine High School
is too much for any parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or just plain human
being anywhere in the world.
Politicians are brokers. On the one hand, they take the money from National
Rifle Association PACS. The only thing that trumps money in this political
society is votes.
Money can help buy votes but a powerful, popular idea, like controlling
guns, overcomes money. All of sudden, the politicians are scared out of
their wits, particularly Republican pols who desperately want to keep control
of the Congress and take the White House.
The Democrats have seized the issue. They have been fearless in staring
down the muzzle of the NRA and declaring that the madness must end. Up
to now, the Republicans have fallen for the gambit. They have resisted
again and again, either because they are afraid of the NRA or because they
have misjudged the sensibility of the American people.
That's why it is that New York Gov. George Pataki, who heretofore had
been strangely silent about guns, came out with a plan that rivaled President
That had a lot of people shaking their heads. He did it without even
a nod to Joseph Bruno, the Republican Senate Majority Leader who had been
working on his own plan. What really had seasoned political observers going
crazy is that Pataki was agreeing with Bill Clinton after having put all
his eggs in George Bush's basket. It
looked like the Republican Pataki was supporting Clinton and giving
the back of his hand to Bush, the very man he is desperately courting and
counting on to make him vice president.
Former Gov. Mario Cuomo thinks it was a clever ploy, so Pataki could
later say, "See, that's why he didn't make me his vice presidential candidate."
But I don't think so. I think the Republicans see a very fast and very
heavy train coming down the tracks and want to get out of the way.
Here's why. Every time the president speaks on this issue, he has a
lot of top brass from some of the most prestigious police groups in the
country standing behind him.
Then George W. Bush commended Pataki for his courage in addressing this
That really widened a lot of eyes. Then Bush openly criticized NRA Executive
Vice President Wayne La Pierre for suggesting that Clinton had put up with
a certain amount of gun violence instead of enforcing the laws. The New
York Times reports that Bush told their reporters, "I don't think that
the NRA was right to characterize the president the way that they did."
Republicans can read the polls. They know they can't take the issue
away from Clinton and the Democrats. The most they can hope to do is to
neutralize it and hope they can make up the difference in other places
like tax cuts. As for Gov. Pataki, he may have seen another train coming
down the same tracks. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew
Cuomo is known to be positioning himself for a run for governor. It is
looking more and more like Pataki will be running for a third term, especially
if Bush doesn't make it to the White House.
Unfortunately for Pataki, young Cuomo had negotiated a deal with the
Smith and Wesson gun company for a series of reforms, including gun locks
and background checks for weapons sold at gun shows, setting an industry
Even worse for Republicans, the preeminent gun manufacturer, by acceding
to the deal, seemed to be acknowledging that reforms had to be made. So
Pataki, in order to take away his potential rival's biggest coup yet, had
to agree with him in order to defuse the issue. Had he stayed with the
more traditional pro-gun Republican position, he surely would have been
on the losing side.
Now the die is cast. The Republicans know they are caught. There is
little they can do to take the issue away from the Democrats. Many of their
members in the Congress face political retribution from the gun lobby if
they come out on the gun control side and that may have the effect of pitting
the Republican presidential candidate against his congressional running
mates. That is not a good place to be.
Finally, this country may be coming to its senses on the gun madness.
Alan Chartock is chairman and executive director of WAMC
Public Radio in Albany, N.Y., and a SUNY professor of political science
and communications. He makes his home in Great Barrington.
©2000 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and New England Newspapers,
Inc. Reproduced here without permission.