WASHINGTON — Rep. Ed Perlmutter is not the only suburban-based Democrat who is championing gun-control measures. Months after the Golden lawmaker appeared on a national Sunday television talk show to discuss the need to restrict firearms, Rep. Bill Enyart of Illinois has also emerged as a leader.
The two representatives were appointed vice chairs of House Democrats’ Gun Violence Prevention Task Force on January 4.
Unlike the ten other leaders of the ad hoc group, who represent districts based in the big cities, university towns, or liberal enclaves, Perlmutter and Enyart represent districts based in the inner suburbs of major metropolitan areas; Denver for Perlmutter, St. Louis for Enyart.
“Residents of the 7th Congressional District are diverse, moderate, and middle of the road with their personal values, economy, and education,” Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), chairman of the task force, said of Perlmutter’s constituents.
Perlmutter did not respond to an interview request for this story.
Although Thompson’s description of the district’s political makeup might raise the eyebrows of Colorado Republicans, it fits Enyart’s. President Obama carried the 12th Congressional District in Illinois by 1.5 points (49.7 to 48.2).
Obama too has a task force to reduce gun violence, of which Vice President Joe Biden is the chair (Interior Secretary Ken Salazar attended the group’s meeting Thursday). It is scheduled to announce its proposals as soon as this week. The House Democrats’ group, whose members have held town-hall style meetings and are expected to hold public hearings with experts, is not expected to release its recommendations until early February.
The groups’ rhetoric, if not their proposals, have caught the notice of gun-rights supporters like Rep. Cory Gardner. “I think the language used after Sandy Hook (elementary) sounds very much like blue-dog Democrats, more moderate Democrats are on board with gun control,” the Yuma Republican said in an interview.
Nathan Gonzalez, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, said gun-control advocates have made rhetorical headway. “There’s definitely a new tone, a new willingness to rethink the issues. But people have not really landed on specifics,” he said.
Biden’s group is expected to recommend imposing a universal background check on those seeking to purchase guns, including those at gun shows. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, announced his support for the idea Thursday.
Restricting access to guns at the federal level has been considered a losing issue for Democrats.
After President Clinton signed a ban on assault weapons in 1994, many congressional Democrats lost their seats, including House Judiciary Chairman Jack Brooks of Texas. And some Democratic observers attribute Al Gore’s defeat in the state of West Virginia in the 2000 presidential election, which had not voted for a non-incumbent Republican candidate in generations and could have given him the electoral votes necessary to make him president, to his opposition to guns.
Some Colorado Republicans expect Democrats to continue to overreach on gun control measures.
Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs blasted Obama for suggesting that he might restrict firearm access through an executive order. “If President Obama wants to impose his radical gun control agenda on the American people, he needs to bring a bill to Congress where it can be fully heard and debated. Any attempt to go around Congress by using an executive order would meet total opposition. The American people will not stand for yet another end-run around Congress by this president,” Lamborn said in a press release.
Colorado conservatives note than support for gun rights remains strong, pointing to a planned rally outside the state capitol in Denver on Jan. 19 — two days before Obama’s second inauguration – by Second Amendment backers. Several thousand are expected to attend.
Yet gun-control organizations have also flexed their muscle at the ballot box.
New York City’s anti-gun Mayor Michael Bloomberg has bankrolled Independence USA, a super PAC, which aims to defeat lawmakers who support gun rights. Last fall, the organization poured $9 million into six races, with their favored candidates winning three of them.
The post-Newtown political environment on guns reflects changed circumstances from a generation ago. One change is Democrats do not control the House of Representatives, making it more difficult for Democrats from urban districts, who have been major supporters of gun-control measures, to push stricter regulations through the lower chamber.
Another change is the makeup of the House Democratic conference. Fewer Democrats represent Southern districts. For example, the Republican who defeated Brooks, Rep. Steve Stockman, returned to Congress this year after a 16-year hiatus.