The GOP is “the party of Bushmasters”


    Big surprise. In the aftermath of Newtown, Republicans are staying in character, mimicking their NRA masters, declaring that they intend to oppose the rising public demand for stricter gun laws.

    This is what we in the news business call “a dog-bites-man story” – meaning, it’s such a common occurrence that it’s really not a story at all. If anything, Republicans probably say No to common sense far more often than dogs bite men.

    Still, attention must be paid, because we’re talking this week about an issue of life and death. President Obama said yesterday that he wants to make gun reform a “central issue” in his second term, and even pro-gun Democratic lawmakers like Bob Casey are finally seeing the light (Casey now says that, as a matter of “conscience,” he’ll support curbs on automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips). Plus, the latest CBS News poll shows that 57 percent of Americans support for gun reform, the highest recorded share in a decade.

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    But, as always, Republicans prefer to keep swimming outside the mainstream.

    Some of their governors, like Rick Perry (natch), think it would be a swell idea to simply arm the teachers. Yeah, that’s brilliant. New York City police are arguably better trained than any teachers would ever be – yet, in August, the cops inadvertently shot nine bystanders during a confrontation with a gunman.

    Then we have the GOP’s Senate wing, epitomized by people like Richard Shelby of Alabama. He said the other day that a new assault weapons ban would never work (the old ban was allowed to expire in 2004, thanks to inaction by a Republican president and a Republican Senate), because it’s supposedly impossible to define what an assault weapon is. Thanks to people like him, anyway. One big problem with the old ban was that the NRA and its legislative allies (most of whom were Republican) riddled it with loopholes – notably, an unnecessarily vague definition of what an assault weapon is.

    But ground zero for naysayers is the Republican House. Most of those folks refuse to even be interviewed, insisting that this is a time to mourn, not to talk policy; in the words of one GOP spokeswoman, “There will be plenty of time to have this conversation, but not amidst the funerals of these brave young children and adults” – a talking point that virtually echoes the NRA (again, big surprise). 

    However, one key House Republican has spoken up. Robert Goodlatte, who is slated in January to helm the House committee that oversees gun laws, and who sports an “A” rating from the NRA, signaled Tuesday that he intends to squelch any and all proposals that would tighten public access to assault weapons and high-capacity clips. In his words, “We’re going to take a look at what happened (in Newtown) and what can be done to help avoid it in the future, but gun control is not going to be something that I would support.”

    And no wonder. The guy has an NRA price tag around his neck.

    That’s worth remembering. Of the 438 current House members, Goodlatte is the fifth largest career recipient of NRA money. Indeed, if you track the NRA’s 2012 donations (an easy task, thanks to the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation), you quickly discover a predictable pattern. The NRA dispensed its largesse to 186 House Republicans and only 16 House Democrats. In other words, the GOP got 92 percent of the NRA money. Goodlatte aside, one of the biggest career recipients is Speaker John Boehner, another NRA “A” rating guy, who has naturally stayed mum in the wake of Newtown, while his spokesman predictably channels the NRA talking point (“Right now our focus should be on the victims, their families, and their friends”).

    It’s the same story on the Senate side, where the NRA in 2012 gave 90 percent of its campaign money to Republican incumbents (38 GOPers, four Democrats). The big unknown, however, is whether the party of No will stay in lockstep – or whether a few brave souls will risk the gun lobby’s ire by embracing sanity.

    Joe Scarborough, the former GOP congressman (and a hunter), said this week on his morning cable show that Republicans face a stark choice: “Do they want to be seen…as the party of Glocks? The party of Bushmasters? The party of combat-style military weapons? Rapid-fire magazine clips? If they want to go around and debate that for the next four years, good luck.” In a column on Politico, he wrote: “As a conservative who had a 100 percent rating with the National Rifle Association and the Gun Owners of America over my four terms in Congress, I wonder why some on the right can’t defend the Second Amendment without acting like jackasses.”

    He also warned this week that if his party hews to its gun-fetish absolutism, “we will lose.” But given the fact that the GOP has already lost two successive presidential elections, and has lost the popular vote in five of the last six, we should not assume that the party of obstruction is poised to heed advice.


    Congratulations to NewsWorks’ sister, WHYY radio, for winning an Alfred I. duPpont-Columbia University award (the broadcast industry’s equivalent of the Pulitzers) – in collaboration with NPR and WITF. Their shared project, StateImpact Pennsylvania, focuses on the state’s energy industry. They won the award for their work on the controversial natural gas extraction process known as fracking.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1



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