It’s generally hard to pinpoint the moment when a politician self-destructs — the “Dean scream” moments are few and far between. Campaigns tend to fall apart as part of a cascade of mistakes, where the number of things going wrong simply becomes insurmountable.
Barack Obama didn’t have a “Dean scream.”
If anything, future pundits will look back to Mitt Romney’s commanding performance at the first presidential debate in Denver as the beginning of the end of Obama’s presidency, but perhaps a response to a question at the second debate at Hofstra put the final nail in Obama’s electoral coffin.
When asked what he would do to restrict the availability of so-called “assault weapons,” the president offered the vague platitudes one would expect from a foundering candidate, before inexplicably reintroducing two unpopular gun measures:
We have to enforce the laws we’ve already got, make sure that we’re keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, those who are mentally ill. We’ve done a much better job in terms of background checks, but we’ve got more to do when it comes to enforcement. But I also share your belief that weapons that were designed for soldiers in war theaters don’t belong on our streets. And so what I’m trying to do is to get a broader conversation about how do we reduce the violence generally. Part of it is seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced. But part of it is also looking at other sources of the violence. Because frankly, in my home town of Chicago, there’s an awful lot of violence and they’re not using AK-47s. They’re using cheap hand guns.
Obama not only attacked the best-selling and most widely distributed firearms in the United States, he also obliquely suggested he wants to disarm the poor.
The “assault weapons” ban was a provision embedded in a 1994 crime bill. It bizarrely banned several kinds of firearms by name, and made others illegal if they had a number of arbitrary cosmetic features. It also banned the new manufacture of magazines holding more than ten rounds.
The cartoonish law was dealt with as Americans have always dealt with the absurd: with mockery. Firearms banned by name changed their names. Firearms that were banned because they had a certain number of arbitrary cosmetic features rendering them criminal simply changed their features.
A company named Intratec made their contempt of the banning of their TEC-9 pistol clear. They removed the threads on the end of the barrel (which no one ever used) and dropped the superfluous barrel shroud (a stamped piece of sheet metal that keeps the shooter’s hand from touching a hot barrel). They reintroduced the gun the next day as the AB-10, with the AB meaning “after ban.”
Most other companies simply enjoyed the newfound sales that came from free Americans wanting to buy something the government didn’t want them to have. AR-15 patterned rifles that bore a cosmetic similarity (though not the select-fire functionality) to the military M-16 changed a few features and suddenly became prolific sellers. Existing manufacturers and importers of military-style weapons increased capacity, and new manufacturers sprung up like mushrooms after a spring rain. AR-15 pattern firearms became the most popular firearms in America, and the “modern sporting rifle” (as some in the shooting sports industry have tried to dub it, with mixed results) is now ubiquitous.
By the time the ban expired in 2004, it was a total failure. It did not reduce crime (such firearms were rarely used in crimes anyway), and the backlash against the ban “mainstreamed” the very firearms they attempted to render criminal. Nonetheless, it remained a hot-button issue on the left, where it has remained simmering as a near-forgotten issue for eight sad years. There is no support for it in the House and Senate, and there is no chance a new ban would make it out of committee.
Not a single soul expected Barack Obama to bring up the idea of reinstating this failed law. It was an act of political suicide.
The National Rifle Association, the nation’s leading gun rights organization, says that it is too soon after the debate to see any specific polling impact, but anecdotal evidence of a backlash against the president is already flowing in. A spokesperson for the group told PJ Media that the president’s anti-gun statement may cost him dearly.
Independents shoot AR-15s and AK-pattern rifles. Union members hunt. Feminists own handguns.
In one moment, President Obama offended 90 million gun owners to varying degrees. In an election where Barack Obama needs high voter turnout if he hopes to blunt a surging Romney (who now boasts a seven-point advantage), he’s sabotaged himself in the all-important swing states where gun ownership is high.
There is no information suggesting that Obama’s statement will “flip” votes from him to Romney, but anecdotal evidence suggests that Democrats and independents that could have been persuaded to cast a vote for the president are reconsidering.