"Certainly one of the chief guarantees of freedom under any government, no matter how popular and respected, is the right of citizens to keep and bear arms. This is not to say that firearms should not be very carefully used, and that definite safety rules of precaution should not be taught and enforced. But the right of citizens to keep and bear arms is just one more guarantee against arbitrary government, one more safeguard against a tyranny which now appears remote in America, but which historically has proved to be always possible."That was Hubert H. Humphrey, liberal icon and failed Democratic presidential candidate in a 1960 interview with Guns magazine. I wasn't born when he uttered those lines which is appropriate; they belong to an age before mine, when guns weren't a wedge issue and the Party of justice and civil liberties accepted more diversity of opinion.
What do we know about the Democratic Party and the RKBA? To begin with, it cost us the Senate, the House and the Presidency. Tom Foley's ill-considered ramming-through of the Assault Weapons Ban is directly credited with confirming the worst fears of gun owners, causing them to jump ship for the Republicans. This isn't just the paranoid ravings of a gun-nut. It's the considered opinion of the former Speaker and former President Clinton. John Kerry should have taken West Virginia. It's pro-union and doesn't have much reason to love George Bush. It is also home to a lot of firearms owners who may have - a tip of the hat to Zak for pointing this out - provided the crucial margin to the current occupant of the White House.
When the Democrats were the dominant force in American politics they relied on the old Franklin Roosevelt coalition of the industrial heartland, the Northeast and the solid South. As it broke up and the Boll-Weevils underwent metamorphosis into elephants the Party was more in the hands of people from areas where gun rights were alien. South of Mason-Dixon and West of the Mississippi became increasingly important in national politics. A core freedom cherished by people in those areas became absolutely identified with the Republicans. Now gun prohibition is a solid plank in the platform. Obligatory shots of Presidential candidates awkwardly handling over-and-under shotguns at duck-killing photo ops do nothing to convince the formerly Democratic otherwise.
My Party can not regain anything like its former stature until it comes to term with political reality and changes its position significantly.
How is this a former gun-grabbers confession and not just a gun-owning Democrat's screed? Well now, that is a story.
I grew up in a liberal Jewish Democratic household. My grandparents, all immigrants, never owned guns. My father was qualified as a marksman and sharpshooter during WWII but never touched a firearm before or after. He was from New York City where such things are rarer than an honest fisherman. It was a matter of unarticulated faith that guns were strange bad things that good people didn't own. They belonged to people who kill things for fun, political extremists, criminals and the paranoid. They were incompatible with the values of justice and liberty that decent folks supported. By the time I was in my mid 20s I had seldom seen and never handled a firearm and knew almost nothing about them except that they were dangerous things to be feared.
There was a crack that admitted some light. I've been a martial arts student and self defense teacher for quite a while. The idea of using force in legitimate self protection, even deadly force, was not all that novel. Hands, yes. Sticks, yes. Knives, yes. Archaic Oriental weapons, yes. Guns, no.
Eventually I drifted into the orbit of a Colorado redneck Silat teacher. He thought I was absolutely wrong on this subject but didn't push the point. He did insist that I learn basic firearms safety which went a long way to demystifying them. Later there was a trip to the range. I was able to see guns as potentially dangerous special purpose tools. When the emotional ground had been prepared things that addressed the intellect like Point Blank and The Samurai, the Mountie and the Cowboy could be viewed and their message accepted with an open mind. From there it was a pretty small jump to being pro Second Ammendment.
That's the key to this, really. As long as firearms are something that Those People use they will be mysterious and frightening. Let your friends see firearms as something that normal folks have and use. Remove the superstitious fear. If you take just two hoplophobic Democratic friends out shooting (.22 only, no human silhouette targets) you will go further towards reuniting the Party with its natural constituents than any number of pictures of candidates looking uncomfortable in Mossy Oak camo and blaze orange.