On the Republican side, some of the potential contenders for 2016 are lying low on the issue, leaving it primarily to the National Rifle Association and conservative lawmakers without national ambitions to make arguments against further gun regulations. One exception is Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who blasted Obama’s gun-safety proposals as an infringement on Second Amendment rights.
The Democratic shift is remarkable given more than a decade of near silence on gun issues within the party. During the 2000 Democratic presidential primaries, challenger Bill Bradley lured Gore into a debate over gun laws — then, as now, a hot-button culture-war issue.
“I’m not sure that it was our preference to run on guns, but it was a necessity to take a tough stand on that issue,” said Robert Shrum, one of Gore’s top strategists. “You had to. It was a litmus test in the Democratic primary.”
After Gore narrowly lost the White House, Democrats widely concluded that it was best to stay away from guns on the national level. In 2008, the issue was so absent that Republican operatives struggled to find any video evidence of then-Sen. Barack Obama’s support for an assault weapons ban. Their best hit? An audio recording of Obama telling donors that white working-class voters sometimes “get bitter and they cling to guns or religion.”Now, however, the guns debate is becoming a litmus-test moment for Democrats who hope to succeed Obama in the White House. “In the primaries in 2016, you’ll have people look back to see where candidates were in the first part of 2013,” Lehane said.
Among Republicans, some potential candidates apparently feel pressure to offer solutions. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, announced a plan last week for his state to share data with the national criminal background check system designed to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill.