Thursday, July 20, 2006

Why the Democratic Party of Oregon Needs a Gun Owners Caucus

"This [pro-gun control] attitude has been a real problem in the West," Montana Democratic Chairman Bob Ream said. "Republicans have painted Democrats as people who will take your guns away."*

"I know there are concerns in large cities, but I want to hear candidates stand up and say they support the Second Amendment," said Edgar Malepeai, vice chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party.*

What do Democratic Governors Bill RichardsonD-NM), Brian Schweitzer (D-MT), and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have in common? They are all prominent Democrats who've put together winning coalitions in western states by staying true to the Democratic Party's support of civil rights, including the right to own and carry firearms, the second bullet point in the Bill of Rights. (Reid even gets campaign money from the NRA.) By breaking bread with the hunters (natural allies of environmentalists) and other pro-gun voting blocks, these politicians are able to hold office and fight for the core principles--equal protection under the law and other civil rights, economic justice, a rational foreign policy--that define the better nature of America.

The demographics of Oregon are similar to those of Montana, New Mexico, Nevada and most other western states: a few large urban centers; predominant, large rural areas with minimal police coverage, large amounts of state and federal lands managed for hunting, and a strong libertarian streak (small "l") that runs through the entire political spectrum from the far left to the far right. Support for gun owners' rights is an integral part of this region's cultural tradition; which again, crosses the political spectrum.

Politicians wishing to represent their constituents should be prepared to defend this culture, or explain why not. A national Pew research poll in February 2004 showed that 32% of voters will not vote for someone who disagrees with them on gun control. This puts the gun control issue close to abortion and other hot topics in its importance to voters. Unfortunately, in these times of close elections, the Democratic Party is generally viewed—unfairly, but still—as an anti-gun institution. The public needs to know this is wrong. Setting aside Florida for a moment, a perceived lack of credibility on gun rights is cited by members of Al Gore's own campaign as one of the reasons Al Gore lost traditionally Democratic states like West Virginia. It's also partially why John Kerry lost the rural vote in general (the shotgun photo ops only showed he didn’t get it: gun rights aren’t about hunting.)

Fortunately, in 2005, the Democratic Party of Oregon overwhelmingly passed RESOLUTION NO. 2005-008 (see link to for a discussion of the resolution). This resolution unambiguously states the DPO's support of 2nd Amendment rights (and responsibilities.) But we members of the DPO need to keep the momentum going. We need to make sure the public as a whole comes to understand that Democrats are, quite simply, the party that supports Americans' civil rights, including the right that is the guarantor of all the others: the right to bear arms.

We can best get out the word about the DPO's true position with a high-profile caucus charged with keeping gun owners’ rights in the forefront of the party’s policy decisions. I am currently in the process of founding a new caucus within the Democratic Party of Oregon: a Gun Owners' Caucus. There are many reasons, but this post deals with a big one: dispelling the misconception that Democrats want to take your guns away. Fact is, we don't. Please support this effort, and join the caucus today.


* Quotes from: Hartford Courant - Hartford, Conn. July 9, 2003. "Democrats Speak Softly on Gun Control" by David Lightman.