- The Washington Times - Monday, June 22, 2015

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton stepped carefully into the gun control debate following the shooting massacre at a historic black church in Charleston, pledging her respect for “responsible gun owners” while calling for tough new laws to keep firearms out of the hands of killers.

But the effort failed to mollify gun rights activists, who warned that a weak stance on Second Amendment rights will cost her critical support among rural and blue-collar voters in a general election contest.

“She will find that this is a very toxic issue that she is trying to play with,” said Erich Pratt, spokesman for Gun Owners of America, a lobbying group representing more than one million gun owners.

Mrs. Clinton, who remains the party’s all-but-inevitable presidential nominee, refrained from calling for some of the more dramatic gun control measures that her Democratic rivals who are desperately trying to rally the party’s liberal activist for the uphill fight against the former first lady, senator and secretary of state.

The candidates offered up their gun control proposals after a shooter killed nine people gathered for Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white man, has been charged with nine counts of murder in the attack, which appears to have been motivated by racial hatred. The Justice Department is investigating the killings as a hate crime.


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Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who also is seeking the Democratic nomination, called for restoring a federal ban on military-style rifles and requiring fingerprinting of gun buyers.

Mrs. Clinton advocated what she called “common-sense” gun laws, such as universal background checks — a proposal that failed in Congress following the 2012 shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in which a gunman killed 20 children and 6 adults.

She also called for unspecified measures that would stop killers from obtaining firearms, but she insisted it would not stop honest Americans from owning guns for sport or self-defense.

“I lived in Arkansas and I represented upstate New York. I know that gun ownership is part of the fabric of a lot of law-abiding communities. But I also know that we can have common-sense gun reforms that keep weapons out of the hands of criminals and the violently unstable, while respecting responsible gun owners,” Mrs. Clinton said Saturday in a speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in San Francisco.

Mr. Pratt said Mrs. Clinton was pandering to gun owners. He compared her to 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry staging a duck hunt on the campaign trail and President Obama shooting a shotgun during his 2012 campaign.

“They want to try to identify with the very people they are going to be trying to restrict their rights,” he said.

Mr. Pratt said that he disagreed with Mrs. Clinton’s characterization of her proposals as common-sense measures. And he called her plan to bar people on the terrorist watch list from buying firearms a “radical” proposal.

“Basically what we are taking about is disarming people based on some kind of secret list that we don’t know who or how people get on this list. That totally goes against the whole notion of God-given rights and that you have to commit a serious crime before your rights are forfeited,” he said.

Still, Mrs. Clinton’s reluctance to embrace the gun control agenda favored by her party’s liberal wing signals that she’s looking beyond the primary contests to the general election.

Thomas Mills, a Democratic political strategist based in North Carolina, said that Mrs. Clinton was playing it smart.

“The people who consider guns a deciding issue won’t vote for Hillary Clinton anyhow,” he said. “She may be appealing to a section of the middle, especially women, who believe we need to have more restraints on guns.”

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