The hosts of Fox News Sunday and Meet The Press pushed the myth that Democratic support for gun violence prevention measures was a significant factor in their 1994 and 2000 electoral defeats.
These claims echo a false media narrative that the National Rifle Association is able to influence electoral outcomes and punish politicians who refuse to line up with the pro-gun organization. This narrative is faltering following the 2012 elections where the NRA spent tens of millions of dollars in a largely unsuccessful attempt to defeat candidates in favor of gun violence prevention policies. Furthermore, there is strong public support for specific gun violence prevention measures and claims that Democrats paid a price for supporting gun violence prevention in 1994 and 2000 are overblown.
Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace claimed during an interview with Al Gore's 2000 running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who advocated for universal background checks on gun sales and renewal of the assault weapons ban on the show, that support for such policies contributed to his 2000 defeat:
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: Back in the 90's you supported the Brady law which called for a five day waiting period.
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN: Right.
WALLACE: You supported the assault weapons ban. Then in 2000 you and Al Gore campaigned around the country and you lost, and a lot of people took as a lesson, part of it was in states like Tennessee and West Virginia, the fact that you were pro-gun control. And quite frankly ever since Democrats have been scared of touching that issue.
The NRA often claims that Gore's position on firearms was decisive in his defeat during the 2000 presidential election. But when American Prospect contributing editor Paul Waldman searched for actual evidence that Gore's position on guns hurt him at the polls, he came up empty-handed. In fact, Gore's position on guns may have helped him in states where voters were supportive of gun violence prevention measures:
And when one looks for actual evidence that the gun issue cost Gore more votes than it gained him, one comes up empty. Few scholars have performed a quantitative analysis of the role of guns in the vote of 2000, though one study examining a range of policy issues determined that the gun issue gave Gore a small advantage on election day. The argument from those who believe that the gun issue was decisive and worked against Gore usually amounts to little more than the fact that Gore lost some states where there are many pro-gun voters. This argument presumes that there were no areas in which Gore's position on guns helped him win a state he might otherwise have lost. But Gore won swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa largely on his strength among urban and suburban voters, who are more likely to support restrictions on guns.
Waldman also found no evidence that Gore's position on guns was the reason that he lost his home state of Tennessee, which if won would have given him an Electoral College victory. Waldman wrote that polling of Tennessee voters in 2000 found that 60 percent wished to see more restrictions on the types of guns people can buy with only 21 percent of respondents stating that the government should have less restrictions or no restrictions at all on firearm purchases.
On Meet the Press, host David Gregory claimed that “we've seen declining support since 1990 for stricter gun control measures” and “it's not a myth that after the assault weapons ban was passed that there was a huge political price for Democrats to pay.” His guest, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, pushed back, noting that “the cause and effect isn't quite so clear.”
In his analysis of NRA electoral influence, Waldman found that claims surrounding a link between the passage of the assault weapons ban and poor electoral outcomes for Democrats in that year's congressional election are also overblown. Instead of being a decisive factor, Waldman wrote that studies found that voting in favor of an omnibus crime bill that included the assault weapons ban had a “relatively small” effect on electoral outcomes, with the single factor leading to the Republican take over of the House of Representatives more likely being a failed attempt by Democrats to pass health care reform.
Gregory's suggestion that “we've seen declining support since 1990 for stricter gun control measures” relies on flawed polling data that only asks generic questions about public support for restrictions on firearms. When the public is asked about specific gun violence prevention proposals, large majorities support enacting some further restrictions. An August 9 CNN poll found that 96 percent of Americans support requiring a background check for every gun purchase. The same poll found that nearly three-in-five respondents favored banning semi-automatic assault weapons and high-capacity magazines containing more than 10 bullets, like those used in the July 20 mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. The CNN poll also found that 76 percent of Americans favored requiring individuals to register their weapons with local law enforcement and 91 percent favored preventing felons and people with mental health problems from owning guns.