MSNBC's Wolffe Bizarrely Attributes 2006 Democratic Sweep To Downplaying Guns

MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe suggested that gun violence prevention is a killer issue that hurts Democrats, attributing the party's success in recapturing the House in 2006 to Nancy Pelosi taking the issue off the table. This fantastical claim ignores the variety of issues on which the 2006 election actually turned, including the handling of the war in Iraq; the fact that several strong gun restrictions were and remain extremely popular; and that the Democrats lost the majority in 2010 without taking action on guns.

Discussing what he saw as the failures of the Republican Party during this election, Wolffe said on the November 6 edition of MSNBC's NOW with Alex Wagner:

WOLFFE: I don't think that the choice of character what really their problem this time around. It's not that their profile didn't fit. They need a nominee the next time around who can lead this party in a different direction. You know, we're talking about the House and the Senate and where they're going to end up, Nancy Pelosi, who gets a lot of criticism for being supposedly arch-liberal, she did one big thing to help Democrats take majority in the House, which is to say, we're not going to stick with gun control. You know, if you want to be a Southern Democrat and you want to not talk about guns at all, you do what you like. Republicans need to have a candidate who will say, on abortion you can be pro-life, you can be pro-choice, it doesn't matter.

While the Democratic Party did make an effort to recruit candidates who opposed strong gun violence prevention laws during the 2006 election cycle, it beggars belief to claim that that effort is what paved the way for their victory.

The Washington Post concluded at the time that the Democrats were able to take back the House due to “an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq and a rash of scandals tainting GOP incumbents in several states.” Exit polls also showed the economy and terrorism as top issues for voters.

If avoiding the supposed stain of being in favor of gun violence prevention had been as important as Wolffe suggests in 2006, one would expect the National Rifle Association to have had some impact. But the purportedly pro-gun Democratic class of 2006 made big gains even though not a single member was endorsed by the National Rifle Association, and all four NRA-endorsed Republican challengers lost to their Democratic opponents that year.

Moreover, while there does not appear to be a great deal of poll data on gun violence prevention during the 2006 election cycle, several polls conducted in April 2007, shortly after the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, show that Americans are willing to support a wide array of common sense gun reforms, providing more evidence that Wolffe's conclusion is flawed:

  • 55 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to support a presidential candidate “who favors strict gun control laws”; only 32 percent said they would be less likely to do so. [Associated Press-Ipsos poll, April 17-19, 2007]
  • A majority of respondents said “stricter gun control laws would have done a lot” to prevent that shooting. [CBS News/New York Times poll, April 20-22, 2007]
  • 67 percent of respondents supported a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons, and 83 percent thought states should be required to report the mentally ill to a federal database to keep them from buying guns. [ABC News poll, April 22, 2007]

Subsequent polls continue to find broad support for these strong gun restrictions. In fact, a recent poll demonstrates that even NRA members themselves overwhelmingly support common-sense measures like requiring criminal background checks on gun purchasers, requiring gun owners to tell the police when their gun is stolen, and keeping concealed carry permits away from perpetrators of violent misdemeanors.

Finally, if Wolffe were correct and the Democrats' success in 2006 was strongly tied to their renouncement of gun violence prevention, one would expect the issue to have played a role in the party's historic defeat in 2010. It did not.

That year, Southern House Democrats -- many of whom, as Wolffe noted, opposed strong gun laws -- were all but wiped out. They lost their seats in spite of the fact that the House had taken no action to tighten gun restrictions in the two years in which the Democrats controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. In fact, during that period, they worked only to loosen gun restrictions, passing new laws allowing firearms to be carried in national parks and on Amtrak trains.