- - Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Last year, President Obama was eagerly moving forward with his personal war against guns. He was ready to ignore the Second Amendment and hoped to change the way Americans viewed gun ownership as a fundamental right.

Very few shots have been fired from the White House in recent months, however. Democrats would be wise to maintain this strategy for an extended period. If not, a recent state legislature election result could be repeated across the country.

Connecticut’s 53rd House District traditionally has been viewed as safely Democratic. Yet Samuel Belsito, a 70-year-old Republican businessman, broke a 40-year stranglehold last week and won a special election over Democratic candidate Anthony J. Horn. Bryan Hurlburt had stepped down as the district’s House representative after Mr. Obama appointed him as Farm Service Agency state executive director.

Why does this particular election result matter?

For one thing, it happened in the same state as the heart-wrenching Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in December. Mr. Belsito is a conservative Second Amendment supporter in a liberal state that doesn’t have a strong record of supporting the rights of gun owners. If anything, Connecticut has a large concentration of anti-gun advocates and often is seen as a write-off for conservative and libertarian political candidates.

A March 6 Quinnipiac University poll of 1,009 registered Connecticut voters found that 66 percent supported “stricter statewide gun-control laws.” In terms of party breakdown, 84 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of independents and a surprising 45 percent of Republicans favored these measures.

Some political observers aren’t completely convinced that the gun debate helped Mr. Belsito to victory. Norwich Bulletin editorial-page editor Ray Hackett argued that it was “doubtful since the gun legislation was bipartisan and both candidates said they would have voted against it.” He suggested that “the unaffiliated” turned the tide for the Republican Party.

That is a fair comment, but here are two things Mr. Hackett — and perhaps others — may not be considering. First, isn’t it extraordinary that Connecticut Democrats and Republicans both nominated pro-gun-rights candidates a mere six months after Sandy Hook? Second, if the gun debate had little to do with the final election result in Connecticut’s 53rd House District, wouldn’t both affiliated and unaffiliated voters have simply stuck with the Democrat, as is their custom?

That is why I think the White House’s failed attempt to slash existing gun legislation is the catalyst in last week’s small political earthquake in the Connecticut state legislature. It’s a clear sign that the Democratic Party machine is struggling mightily and that the president’s pursuit of an issue that remains near and dear to many Americans was a poor political strategy.

At the same time, this could be a bigger nightmare for Democrats. They had the audacity to take on a historically important position and could pay for it in upcoming House, Senate and presidential elections.

Americans treasure their rights, liberties and freedoms more than people in most other countries. When political parties or governments attempt to adjust, reform or discard these time-held principles, it’s only natural that some citizens will use their democratic right to register their complaints through the ballot box. When the president attempts to do the same thing, that anger will intensify — whether they voted for him or not.

Mr. Obama and other Democrats, therefore, should just let the gun-control debate drop altogether. The political risk was always huge, and the political rewards remain highly questionable. Instead of flogging a dead political horse, which liberals love to do on pet issues, they should spend their time annoying conservatives and libertarians with other policies and issues.

If they do not, Republicans will have a golden opportunity to capitalize on Mr. Belsito’s impressive upset victory and use the federal gun-control debate to their political advantage. They would be able to stand with Americans, support and defend their right to keep and bear arms, and potentially punish Democrats in elections.

What will Mr. Obama ultimately do? History shows he likely will walk the path of most resistance. In turn, he will be forced to duck the political fire.

Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a columnist with The Washington Times.