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Left, Right Go Back to Bases on Mass Killings

“Confiscation could be an option. Mandatory sale to the state could be an option. Permitting could be an option — keep your gun but permit it.”

-- Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., in an interview with Albany’s WGDJ-AM last week discussing how an assault weapons ban might work in his state.

As liberal groups demand fast action on gun control in the wake of last month’s Connecticut school shooting, Democrats are doing all they can to show they can deliver a firearms crackdown.

Today, Vice President Joe Biden will meet with gun control advocates to discuss proposed limits. Power Play suspect that this session with Biden, the driving force in Congress behind the 1994 restrictions on “assault weapons,” will go better than his session tomorrow with the NRA and gun rights groups.

It’s debatable whether Biden’s 1994 restrictions, which expired a decade later, were effective. Opponents point to the increase in mass shootings over the life of the ban while advocates say that there would have been more still without the law.

There’s no debate, though, about the place the defunct ban and gun control in general have in the base of the Democratic Party. Most liberals believe that what they call the “gun lobby” – a coalition of pro-Second Amendment groups and firearms manufacturers -- is to blame for the carnage of Newtown and other recent mass killings. The broad consensus on the left is that the kind of firearms restrictions common in European countries is solution.

By selecting Biden to lead his task force on mass shootings, President Obama sent a clear signal. Putting one of the most outspoken proponents of gun control in charge told gun rights groups that whatever was said about the entertainment industry and mental health, firearms would be the focus.

...by taking the path of the commission and seeking a larger victory, Obama has invited more base-versus-base political battles. As the weeks pass and the conflict between left and right grow, the chances for not just comprehensive action but any action at all will lessen.

Biden, who is mulling a presidential run in 2016, can be expected to work very hard to show the Democrat base that he means business when it comes to gun control.

Meanwhile, another potential 2016 contender, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is preparing to lay out a state-level gun ban in his State of the State Address in Albany tonight.

As the leader of a liberal state, Cuomo is no doubt meeting the wishes of his constituents by backing gun control. But he doubtless has another audience in mind: liberal Democrats across the country who grow increasingly worried at Obama’s blue-ribbon commission on guns will come to naught.

Some on the left wonder whether Obama has the grit to force through a gun ban. Others wonder whether the president, having picked a fight with Congress with a controversial nominee to be secretary of Defense and facing a series of bitter battles over deficit spending, will be able to return to the subject before it fades from public memory.

If Cuomo could deliver substantial gun control in New York, he would have a strong selling point to Democratic primary voters: when Washington Democrats couldn’t get it done, he got results.

Talking about ammunition restrictions and confiscating guns is a good way to show Democratic activists that you’re on their side, but not a very good way to get a deal done.

Biden’s push, Cuomo’s plans and the general drumbeat for gun control on the left has inflamed the fears of the gun-rights advocates. The calls for new ideas on curbing mass shootings in the immediate aftermath of Sandy Hook are fading and the left and right are instead bracing for a narrower battle over gun control.

Consider Gun Appreciation Day. A group of gun-rights groups have called for gun owners to show their solidarity on Jan. 19 by turning out en masse at gun stores, gun counters, gun shows, and gun ranges. The groups argue that more guns mean less crime and that a better-armed populace would be better able to defend against mass murder.

The idea is that on the same weekend as Obama takes the Oath of Office a second time for millions of gun owners to show their clout and commitment.

This, of course, makes gun control advocates hopping mad and prompted accusations that Gun Appreciation Day is a veiled assassination threat or even racist, falling as it does on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

In less than a month, what was supposed to be a new national dialogue about mass killings – a dialogue conducted in a reverential hush for the 6-year-old and 7-year-old victims of the Sandy Hook killings – has already devolved into political base baiting and shouting.

Part of this is unavoidable since the two sides on the argument are so far apart. One side says guns are the problem. The other side says guns are the solution. Hard to split the difference on that one.

But part of this might have been avoided if the president had accepted a simple, incremental response to the killings rather than a comprehensive, audacious one. Had Obama backed a bill that normalized or enhanced mental health screening on gun purchases, for example, it would have been hard for anyone to say much against him.

But by taking the path of the commission and seeking a larger victory, Obama has invited more base-versus-base political battles. As the weeks pass and the conflict between left and right grow, the chances for not just comprehensive action but any action at all will lessen.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“[White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, expected to be President Obama’s nominee as Treasury secretary] is the guy you want to hold the fort in reactionary liberalism.  You've got the great achievements of the last century in building the entitlement state.  He is the guy who would defend the fort.

-- Charles Krauthammer on "Special Report with Bret Baier."

 

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET  at  http:live.foxnews.com.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First” political news note and hosts “Power Play,” a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.”  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.