In an analysis of the upcoming Montana special election, a Politico Magazine contributor questioned whether the Democratic party can “retake Congress by giving up on gun control,” erroneously blaming advocacy for such regulations for Democrats loses in the 1994 congressional elections and the 2000 presidential election.
In the May 24 article, Politico Magazine’s Bill Scher accused Democrats of being “squeamish about gun control” ever since feeling the “backlash” in the 1994 midterms in response to President Clinton’s assault weapons ban and background checks bill. Scher went on to incorrectly blame Al Gore’s loss in the 2000 presidential election on his support for President Clinton’s firearms regulations:
Democrats have been squeamish about gun control ever since they felt the backlash to President Bill Clinton’s enactment of a ban on assault weapons and “Brady Law” background checks, which shouldered some blame for the Democratic loss of Congress in 1994. But 2000 presidential nomine (sic) Al Gore doubled down. In the wake of the 1999 Columbine massacre and a liberal primary challenge from New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, Gore ran on a robust gun control package that included a ban on cheap handguns. When he lost gun-friendly states that Clinton had won—namely Arkansas, West Virginia and his own home state of Tennessee—guns were blamed again.
Soon after, Democrats began keeping their voices down about gun control, even when mass shootings occurred. The Republican Congress let Clinton’s assault weapons ban expire without a vote, but Democrats didn’t fight exceptionally hard. Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean touted his “A” rating from the NRA during the 2004 presidential primary. The nominee that year, John Kerry, futilely tried to pick off Ohio, and leaven his support for reinstating the assault weapons ban, with an October goose hunting expedition.
At that point, Democrats won’t be able to sweep the gun issue under the rug. They will have to make a choice: to be or not to be the party of gun control. And if they are still going to be party committed to reducing gun violence, they had best not waste time figuring out how to do it.
In actuality, factors other than gun violence prevention measures better explain the 1994 election outcome; Congress had raised taxes in 1993, passed NAFTA, failed to pass healthcare reform and according to a statistical analysis by political scientist Gary Jacobson, Republicans won the House “because an unusually large number of districts voted locally as they had been voting nationally.”
The idea that support for gun regulations resulted in Gore’s 2000 loss is also a common media myth. According to then-American Prospect columnist, and former Media Matters employee Paul Waldman, "Any discussion of the 2000 election is complicated by the fact that the contest was so close that any of a multitude of factors could be described as decisive.” Waldman attributed Gore’s loss in southern states in particular to a partisan shift Republican support as opposed to the NRA’s opposition.
As Waldman explained, “The 2000 presidential election was not an anomaly, but rather part of a steady trend away from the Democratic party in Tennessee. Bill Clinton won there in 1996 by only 2.4 points, less than he had in 1992. Gore lost there by 3.9 points, John Kerry lost in 2004 by 14.3 points, and four years later Barack Obama lost by 15.1 points." One 2000 study even found that Gore's position on guns offered him a slight benefit on Election Day with voters.