Saturday, April 21, 2007

Guns & Roe(ses)

The push of other news has crowded the presidential campaign from the media front burner for a few days. I have to think that the occasional yellow flag is welcomed by front-runners and that even emerging also-rans like John McCain are grateful for the small favors of a distracted crowd, so things like "Bomb bomb bomb. Bomb bomb Iran" get (mostly) buried.

But soon enough the cameras will get back on the calliope. And with a war in Iraq sucking most of the air out of the smoke-filled room who could have predicted that gun control and abortion might be central campaign issues in '08?

The disturbingly efficient rampage by was committed not with the fringe weapons the gun control battle is always about, but
With a war in Iraq sucking most of the air out of the smoke-filled room who could have predicted that gun control and abortion might be central campaign issues in '08?
with a pedestrian semi-automatic 9 mm handgun he acquired legally (though the New York Times reports that a gaping loophole in the background check process may have existed). There is no cover here with the usual dodges. This isn't about banning guns that hunters are said not to need (though I doubt many use handguns. Hmmmm .... Nah).

I Don't Want To Talk About It

Democrats traditionally favor stricter gun rules than Republicans, of course, but it isn't a winning issue for them because of the diverse and conflicted feelings Americans have about guns, and because the gun lobby is always loaded for bear. The VIrginia Tech massacre took place in a rural part of a state which has few restrictions on gun ownership. This makes it a more nuanced issue than, say, if a similar event had taken place in New York or Washington.

The groundwork has been laid to proceed with caution about drawing any conclusions, and watch the wise politicians take the hint. Knocking down suggestions to even consider the gun lobby position that armed Virginia Tech students might have prevented at least the scale of the disaster on their gun-free-zone campus, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine said "... people who want to take this within 24 hours of the event and make it, you know, their political hobby horse to ride, I've got nothing but loathing for them."

Perfect that the opportunity to seethe was at a question about expanding gun rights, giving nice cred to anyone who follows Kaine's lead. Kaine has appointed a panel, including former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, to make assessments and suggestions. So look for everyone to defer comment until this work is done, whenever that is. You can't be too careful.

Against Abortion? Absolutely Maybe

While the gun debate may shift to a mainstream scenario it was with a ruling on a fringe abortion procedure that the Supreme Court departed from precedent, upholding the U.S. Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. It was the first time the Court had upheld a ban on a specific method of abortion, under a law which permits no discretion to perform the procedure even if, in her physician's medical opinion, the woman's life is in jeopardy.

Getting behind this is an easier decision for those courting the most conservative voters, but there's no consolation in winning the primaries and losing the general. And I defy anyone to accurately assess what the mood of "the people" is at any given time. If there is any political equivalent to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle it is in abortion.

Republican candidates traditionally favor restrictions to abortion or the undoing of "Roe v. Wade," but it isn't a winning issue for them because while most Americans favor curbs most also seem not to want to eliminate abortion rights. So confusing is the issue that the language used in polling tips the outcome.

A CBS/New York Times poll taken in conjunction with the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade in January 2003 found that 77% of respondents said abortion should either be "Generally available", or "Available but with stricter limits that now," and only 22% said abortion should not be permitted. The results were nearly identical from precisely the same questions asked 10 years before. But a Zogby poll in December of the same year found that, by 53% to 36%, the public supports the statement, "Abortion destroys a human life and is manslaughter."

So, who needs the grief of taking positions on this stuff? What ever happened to just kissing babies and being against an unpopular war?

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