There is a variation of an old joke in Washington political circles about Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. For all his knowledge and experience, the safest public relations strategy is to keep him on a short leash.
When it comes to Mr. Biden and gun control, President Obama may be kicking himself right now for loosening his grip longer than he should have.
The vice president recently participated in a Google+ video hangout about gun violence. Mr. Biden immediately whipped up a media frenzy with this jaw-dropping comment: “Guess what? A shotgun will keep you a lot safer — a double-barrel shotgun — than the assault weapon in somebody’s hands who doesn’t know how to use it.” He also said, “You know, it’s harder to use an assault weapon and hit something than it is to use a shotgun, OK? So if you want to keep people away in an earthquake, buy some shotgun shells.”
My guess is Democratic spin doctors were immediately contacted to put out this political fire and craft an airtight response. To their credit, the wordsmiths came up with a good retort. Mr. Biden’s loquacious statement simply proves Mr. Obama and leading Democrats believe in the Second Amendment, and support a citizen’s right to legally purchase weapons. If the White House had ulterior motives, why would the vice president — who was asked by the president to spearhead a committee to find ways to curb gun violence — praise any type of gun in a public forum?
Don’t believe it, though. If anything, this is just the first step in the Democrats’ long-term plan to implement gun control.
Consider it from a communications perspective. The terrible shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., were on the level of only a few other tragedies, including Michigan’s Bath School disaster in 1927 and the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. While there have been other terrifying events, such as the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting, few have rattled the American psyche about guns as Newtown has. The 20 children and six adults who lost their lives at Sandy Hook are permanently etched in our memories.
The Democrats have therefore come up with what they believe is a winning strategy: Remove the really offensive weapons (semi-automatic weapons) and keep the weapons our supporters could remain content with (shotguns).
Contrary to popular belief, there are still loyal Democrats who would oppose a total gun ban. Any politician who publicly opposes the Second Amendment should not expect to have a long and prosperous career. The White House is walking on eggshells and taking baby steps when it comes to certain types of weapons — in this case, shotguns.
Mr. Biden is correct in saying a double-barrel shotgun would provide some safety, but what do you think will happen when a shotgun is eventually found at the crime scene of a tragic shooting one day? A tool of home defense is likely to be recast as a menace to the innocent.
It’s awful to write this, but there’s little that can be done to prevent further episodes involving gun violence. Mr. Obama’s proposals to conduct background checks before firearms sales, ban semi-automatic weapons and spend more money on mental health services will have some public support, of course. Yet only those who live in glass houses and dream in Technicolor believe the White House’s plan will serve as anything more than political window dressing.
Senior Democrats like Mr. Biden are only protecting aspects of the Second Amendment now because a flat-out rejection would destroy their party’s support in the future. While Mr. Obama may be a lame-duck liberal president in his second and final term in office, he’s an intelligent person and not foolish enough to take that unpopular position.
This isn’t to say there won’t be a gradual process of imposing gun control, supported by another left-leaning Democratic president such as, perhaps, Mr. Biden. That’s something all people who believe in the Second Amendment, regardless of their political stripe, should be very concerned about.
Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a columnist with The Washington Times.