EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


December 22, 2012

Column: Newtown, politics and gun control


But on Wednesday, when he announced that he was directing Vice President Joe Biden to bring him proposals for quick action against gun violence, Obama’s tone was different. For the first time, he made gun control a formal part of his second-term agenda. “I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this,” he said. “We won’t prevent them all, but that can’t be an excuse not to try.”

On Election Day, when Obama won handily, it wasn’t votes from gun owners that put him over the top. Instead, the president won by mobilizing a Democratic majority among groups that are overwhelmingly in favor of gun control: women, suburban voters and Latinos.

The most important number in this week’s polls on gun control isn’t the spike in overall support for more regulations _ 54 percent in a Washington Post/ABC News poll this week, the highest in five years; that was to be expected. More important, as Greg Sargent pointed out in the Post, is the demographic breakdown of that support. Democrats, college-educated voters, women and minorities favor stricter gun regulations by significant majorities. Opposition to gun control is concentrated among white men, especially white men who didn’t go to college.

Those demographics have several political consequences.

First, the opponents of gun control are mostly voters Obama and his party have already lost to the Republicans, so by being cautious on the issue, Democrats aren’t gaining much. (Democrats representing districts in the South and the Mountain West are likely to still tread carefully.)

Second, if Obama wants to solidify his coalition, he probably needs to respond to its members’ desire for tougher gun control. For the president, that doesn’t appear to be a hard sell. As a senator, he supported the now-defunct ban on assault weapons. When he spoke in Newtown, his passion appeared genuine. And with no more elections to face, he’s free to pursue the agenda he wants.

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