Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The lead question for Democratic candidates in CD2 primary forum was about gun control

Drumpf and the Demise of Democracy
The Death of our Democracy: Death by Drumpf?

Scriber thinks how they answer that question now and what they’ve done in the past says a lot about what they value.

While Scriber was on vacation, our dear President continued to take pot-shots at our democracy. He continued his war against our institutions (like Justice and the FBI). After being a staunch gun rights supporter during his campaign, he seemed to flip and advocate more control (but then he might have flopped after a meeting with the NRA). Some of this, I admit, is old news but I am getting caught up after three weeks in New Zealand. And that brings me to the theme of today’s post - the intersection of the gun debate and the CD2 primary.

On February 25th, three organizations, Democratic Club of the Santa Rita Area, Democratic Club of Quail Creek, and alliance4action, sponsored a forum attended by the six contenders for the CD2 seat vacated by Martha McSally and moderated by Dylan Smith from the Tucson Sentinel.

Paul Ingram from the Sentinel provided a lengthy summary of the questions put to the contenders and their answers in Democratic CD2 candidates look to stand out in crowded race. Here is some of his summary.

The Democrats — Matt Heinz, Ann Kirkpatrick, Billy Kovacs, Mary Matiella, Barbara Sherry, and Bruce Wheeler — are laying the groundwork for the August primary election, which will determine who will run in the November general election.

For more than 90 minutes, the six candidates wrestled with a wide range of issues in front of a full house of more than 400 people, including how to deal with gun violence following the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14; issues surrounding health care, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act; the development of two copper mines in Arizona; the future of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and U.S. security, and immigration reform.

CD 2’s congressional seat is open because U.S. Rep. Martha McSally is running for the Senate. Five candidates are also running on the Republican side.

Three of the Democratic candidates have previous elected experience: Kirkpatrick served as the former CD 1 congresswoman before she attempted to unseat John McCain in 2016; Heinz was a member of the state house before he attempted to dislodge McSally; and Wheeler is a former state rep and ex-Tucson city councilman.

Matiella is a former assistant Army secretary seeking office for the first time, along with political newcomers Kovacs and Sherry.

Smith’s first question focused on the school shooting in Parkland, where a 19-year-old man used an AR–15-style rifle to killed 17, and wound 14 others, and asked how the candidates would balance safety with the Second Amendment.

Wheeler said the issue was difficult, but to start out, he would focus on six principles, including a strengthening of background checks, a ban on bump-stocks, a ban on “large-capacity” ammunition magazines, put age limits on gun purchases, renew the ban on assault weapons, and require Congress to hold televised hearings on the issue.

He also blamed the congressional process for often “yoking” bill together, for example expanded conceal and carry rights with background checks, further ensuring that “nothing gets done,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler also said that the culture “is steeped deeply in violence.”

“We have a president, and the NRA, that wants to arm our teachers as a solution,” Wheeler said, to boos and hissing from the audience. “It’s insane and it needs to be stopped,” he said.

“When it comes to guns, I’ve changed my mind,” said Kirkpatrick, following the shootings in Tucson and Newtown, Conn. Kirkpatrick— who praised the NRA as a “civil liberties organization” in 2009 and at one time had an “A” rating from the gun lobby, in part because she opposed reinstating the assault weapons ban — said that she had a record of legislation to prevent gun violence, including attempts to strengthen background checks and the elimination of the “gun-show loophole.” This included bills to stop people on terrorist watch lists, along with stalkers and domestic abusers, from getting guns, and earned her a “D” rating from the NRA, she said.

I’ll come back to Kirkpatrick’s answer in a moment.

Kovacs agreed with reinstating the ban on the AR–15, but also said that the NRA pushed “state by state to erode our laws,” on guns and that state-level action, not just “federal capacity” was the way forward. Kovacs said that the candidates “need to stand with groups like Moms Demand Action,” and “survivors are the ones we should listen to.”

“The NRA is going to come after all of us,” said Heinz.

Sherry agreed with the other candidates, but also laid into McSally, noting that the former representative had received $75,000 from the NRA. “This is how you defeat the NRA, it’s all about money,” she thundered. “Fight with your pocketbook, burn up their customer service lines, it’s about the brand.”

Sherry read a growing list of businesses that refused to work with the NRA following the shooting and said, “You kill the brand.”

Blake Morlock, also writing at the Sentinel, opined that Kirkpatrick falters after CD2 debate with self-inflicted owie. Or ‘How I learned to love Barbara Sherry’ However, Morlock tagged Kirkpatrick as the front-runner.

[My] clearheaded take concluded the afternoon was a clear win for former U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick. She’s the establishment choice with the most access to real money and with five opponents all trying to be the insurgent pick. The five Not-Ann’s focused on showing their own chops rather than trying to chop down Kirkpatrick. So Kirkpatrick won for having emerged unscuffed. Then she scuffed herself ex post facto.

A couple hours after the debate, Kirkpatrick changed two answers. First, she flip-flopped on supporting U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva’s legislation protecting San Carlos Apache land from a new mine in the Globe-Miami area. She also backtracked and said she would support Nancy Pelosi for speaker of the House, should Democrats win back control of Congress, after failing to raise her hand for a “yes” to the question during the debate.

She said she didn’t hear the questions. Well, everyone else seemed to hear.

[Nonetheless, the dynamic of the race] favors Kirkpatrick because the anti-establishment vote has to coalesce around one of the other five, who all did well. If the not-Ann vote splits among the other candidates, then she’ll coast to the nomination. In that case, my read of the room is that the Democrats will support her with enthusiasm to smack the smirk off Trump’s face.

Larry Bodine writing at Blog for Arizona also picked Kirkpatrick as his choice for the top candidate, Ann Kirkpatrick is Front Runner at Candidates Forum for Tucson’s Congressman. That elicited a lot of push-back from commenters at b4az who also provided links to other sources. Some of the dissenting comments focused on Kirkpatrick’s 180 degree shift on gun control.

In his comment, Steve Brittle referenced a Mother Jones piece, These Democrats Used to Tout Their NRA Grades. Now They’re Facing the Consequences. Gun control has become a wedge issue in Democratic primaries. And Ann Kirkpatrick led the list.

When the National Rifle Association kicked off its annual conference in Phoenix in 2009, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, a first-term Democrat whose district covered an Illinois-sized swath of rural Arizona, welcomed its members with open arms. “I am proud that my state is hosting the group that has protected that right for 138 years,” she said in a statement. “This is a chance for Arizonans to show our nation’s leaders we will not let them take away our freedoms.” Kirkpatrick walked the walk, too; earlier that year she had written to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to shelve a proposal to reinstate the assault weapons ban. When she ran for reelection one year later, she boasted of an A-rating from the NRA.

Now, after an unsuccessful campaign for Senate in 2016, Kirkpatrick is a leading contender to win the Democratic nomination in the smaller and less rural 2nd Congressional District, and she’s singing a far different tune than she was a decade ago. After last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Kirkpatrick ripped into the organization she once endorsed. “It’s not enough to fight for common-sense reforms anymore,” she tweeted. “It’s time to fight the gun companies fighting against those reforms. It’s time to fight the NRA directly.” Not long after, at a candidate forum near Tucson, Kirkpatrick announced her support for a new ban on assault weapons.

“I’ve changed my mind,” she said.

Kirkpatrick, once the model of a rural, pro-gun Democrat, is emblematic of the broader shift within the party. Once home to a vocal minority of NRA-backed elected officials and reluctant to wade into the messy politics of gun rights, the Democratic caucus has taken an increasingly aggressive approach to gun control. And Democratic candidates, fueled by organizations such as Everytown for Gun Safety and an outpouring of grassroots energy and anger, are determined to put gun control on the ballot not just in November, but in 2018 primaries, too. Candidates who once touted their NRA ties have found themselves on the defensive, or they have simply changed their positions with the times. In some cases, it’s both.

In spite of her endorsement by Gabby Giffords (who herself previously held the CD2 seat and was shot at a street corner meeting), Kirkpatrick’s come-about on the NRA and gun control will be an issue seized on by other candidates.

… she’s come in for sharp criticism from former state Rep. Matt Heinz, the party’s 2016 nominee and her most formidable competition in the primary. Heinz’s campaign created a website, “Flagstaff Ann,” devoted to Kirkpatrick’s opposition to gun control in her old district and has repeatedly flogged Kirkpatrick’s old gun-friendly statements on Twitter.

“It wasn’t just she accidentally tripped and fell into the A-rating and never talked about it,” Heinz says. “She really tried hard to get that rating and to keep it. She used it against Republicans she ran against in previous campaigns. She was proud of it, and I think that right there is disqualifying.”

“Ann helped them,” he adds. “She carried water for the NRA for a decade or more and now we’re all supposed to say, ‘Oh great, she one time said the right thing, so never mind, that’s great’? This is gonna keep coming up.”

To be fair about it, Kirkpatrick is not the only Dem who has changed position on the NRA. See the Mother Jones piece for more. Personally, I have a problem with all that. It’s not as if the NRA suddenly became more villainous and now advocates unlimited access to AR–15s. They always did that. So supporting the NRA at any time in the last decade or so, flags a candidate for office as on the wrong side of the question about who is responsible for the deaths of so many school children. It was the guns then and it is the guns now.

Now moving beyond CD2, a comment By Margaret Talbot in The New Yorker looks at The Gun-Control Debate After Parkland and asks This time feels different. Will things finally change?

The kids are out marching for change. Corporations are rebelling against their own support of the NRA. The President actually said something in favor of gun control. And the American public hugely favors a ban on assault rifles. However …

… gun-control advocates might not want to place too much hope in any single moment, even this one. They will have to play a long game, made up of many moments. That’s what their opponents have done. Matthew Lacombe, a doctoral candidate at Northwestern University, has been analyzing the N.R.A.’s rhetoric over the decades in editorials and letters to the editor that have appeared in its magazine, The American Rifleman. The organization’s leaders and members used a remarkably consistent series of words to describe their identity: “law-abiding,” “peaceable,” “patriotic,” “freedom-loving,” and “average citizens.” Their opponents were “un-American,” “tyrannical,” “Communist,” and “élitist.” Wayne LaPierre, the president of the N.R.A., echoed this language in a speech last week at the Conservative Political Action Committee, invoking a Democratic Party “infested with saboteurs who don’t believe in capitalism, don’t believe in the Constitution, don’t believe in our freedom, and don’t believe in America as we know it.”

The N.R.A.’s advantage isn’t only its ability to donate to candidates or to pay for expensive lobbyists and ads, though that is formidable. It spent four hundred and nineteen million dollars in the 2016 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which reports that “career NRA support for some members of the 115th Congress now reaches well into the seven-figure range.” It spent more than thirty million dollars supporting Trump’s campaign.

But the organization also benefits from its unequivocal rejection of virtually all gun regulations, and from the way that certainty resonates. Most gun owners are not N.R.A. members, but, according to Gallup, people who want lenient gun laws are significantly more likely to be single-issue voters than those who want stricter laws. Gun owners are also more likely than non-gun owners to have contacted a public official about gun policy.

All kinds of people own guns, for all kinds of reasons. Still, some demographic features of gun ownership tend to reinforce a particular political posture. A 2017 Pew Research Center study found that forty-eight per cent of white men own a gun, compared with twenty-five per cent of white women, twenty-five per cent of non-white men, and sixteen per cent of non-white women. Gun owners are far more likely to live in rural areas. Forty-one per cent of whites with a bachelor’s degree are gun owners, versus twenty-six per cent of whites with a more advanced degree. Half of all gun owners say that ownership is essential to their identity.

Fear is a factor: nearly half of male gun owners and almost a third of female owners say that they have a loaded gun “easily accessible to them at all times at home.” According to the Pew study, “There is a significant link between owning a gun for protection and perceptions of whether the world broadly speaking has become more dangerous.” Jennifer Carlson, a sociologist who interviewed male gun owners in Michigan, found that many of them considered firearms crucial to reclaiming a sense of purpose, especially if they were no longer breadwinners.

Security, nostalgia for an era of unchallenged privilege, a sense of beleaguered white masculinity: these are powerful forces. They helped get Donald Trump elected. Advocacy for gun-control laws may never provide the same single-minded identity that politicized gun ownership seems to exert. But this year, again thanks in part to the Parkland students, it’s beginning to take a stronger hold. People who want this moment to mean something should remember that they are the majority, and that they, too, can choose, for however long it takes, to be single-issue voters.

I think that I shall be such a voter. I am sick of the nonsense: “a good guy with a gun …” I am sick of the de facto policy of this country that accepts the deaths of our children as the price to be paid for 2nd amendment “rights.” Having just come from a visit to New Zealand, I know that we can break that trade-off and rid ourselves of that nonsense. New Zealand has strict requirements for gun ownership and has not experienced another school shooting in 100 years. So the model is out there and each of us needs to choose. What do we value? If you claim to be pro-life, you cannot be pro-gun. To those candidates for office of any sort at every level I ask “if you favor gun control now, what ever made you favor the NRA?” And, I add, “why should I believe you now?” You’ll have to go beyond the talk and walk the walk and work pretty damn hard on gun control to get my vote.

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