Special Report Talks to The Experts

This partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, August 15, 2001, was provided by the Federal Document Clearing House. Click here to order the complete transcript.

BRIT HUME, HOST: The Democratic Party these days is making a concerted effort to do better in the areas of the country, the so-called "red areas," where it did poorly in the recent presidential election.  That means generally areas that are rural, Western and Southern.  And that seems to mean taking a hard look at positions on an issue that has been a core staple of the party for years, guns and gun control.

Joining me to discuss this issue is Michael Barone, senior writer at U.S. News & World Report, and of course, a Fox News contributor.

Hi, Michael.

BARONE: Good afternoon.

HUME: This has been so much an issue associated with Democrats, and even associated with the coveted independent swing voters.  One wonders how much room the Democrats really have to maneuver on this issue.  What are they thinking about it?

BARONE:  Well, they've -- they've been associated with the gun control cause, and it has helped them in some states, Brit.  New Jersey we saw earlier from Carl Cameron, the Democratic candidate's definitely running on it again.  It helps the Democrats there. Probably has helped them in California and some of those other states that senior George Bush carried and junior George Bush lost.

HUME: Such as?

Other guests and topics for August 15, 2001 included:
• Jim Angle's report on the president's trip to New Mexico
• Brian Wilson's report on Virginia redistricting
• Carl Cameron's report on the New Jersey governor's race
• Jennifer Griffin's report on the Middle East
• The Political Grapevine
Order  the complete transcript

BARONE:  Such as California, Pennsylvania...

HUME:  Pennsylvania, yeah.

BARONE:  ... and so forth.  In southeast Pennsylvania, it probably helped them, those big metro areas.

HUME:  With large suburbs.

BARONE:  With large suburbs.  But on the other hand, when you get out to sort of edge suburbs and you get out into the rural areas, then you see that it's really been hurting the Democrats.  I mean, take a look at states like Montana, Colorado, Kentucky, Tennessee -- Al Gore's home state of Tennessee, Bill Clinton's home state of Arkansas, West Virginia.  Those are all states that Bill Clinton carried in 1992.  They're all states that George W. Bush carried, in some cases carried by very wide margins, in 2000.  And I think in each of those states, I think the gun issue probably hurt the Democrats and helped Bush.

HUME:  Now, what kind of -- I mean, the Democratic Party, it would seem to me, could no more completely abandon its crusade against gun violence and the need for stopping the proliferation of weapons or whatever it is always said than the Republicans could turn around and change position on that issue and have it in credibility.  So you know, what are their policy options?  How -- how do you go about adjusting the position?  What's the smart position here?

BARONE:  Well, the real question is whether or not you emphasize an issue.  I mean, the Democrats, because Tom Daschle's now Senate majority leader, have the ability to push at least a few issues to the fore, to bring them up, to put them into the political conversation.  I don't think Mr. Daschle is going to do that on the gun control issue right now.  And I think one of the reasons he doesn't is that the rhetoric of -- of gun control advocates very often sounds like they're promising us a gun-free society.

And in fact, some, though not all, of gun control advocates I think really would like to see us as a society with no private ownership of guns, a society more like Britain or some of the European countries.  And of course, that's very strongly opposed by the 48 percent of votes in 2000 who do own guns and who think that guns are a healthy way of -- part of a healthy way of life and -- and part of -- and protection, in many cases.

HUME:  Now, has the polling on this changed?  My recollection of the polling down through the years was always that gun control, as a general proposition -- you know, Saturday night special control, whatever, banning of assault weapons, as they were called -- that stuff polled very well, broadly speaking.  What -- what has changed the body politic, if anything?

BARONE:  Well, I used to be in the polling business, and in polls, you can often ask questions about the same issue in different ways and get seemingly very different results. I mean, "Are you for some kind of gun control?"  Well, most Americans say yes.  We really don't want private ownership of nuclear weapons, I mean, for starters.

HUME:  Right.

BARONE:  And you can imagine other things that we -- that we don't want.  On the other hand, you know, "Should we be banning guns altogether" and -- and so forth, I think that on that case, then you find most -- a large majority of Americans say we should not.

HUME:  Is this not also one of those issues where the polls fail to measure an intensity factor?

BARONE:  I think the polls...

HUME:  And the single-issue factor?

BARONE:  The polls fail to mention an intensity factor here.  I think gun control supporters in the polls, generally, generally have a lower intensity than strong gun control opponents.

HUME:  So that they'll vote -- they might vote -- gun control opponents...

BARONE:  You have to...

HUME:  ... NRA members, hunters, might vote against a candidate solely because of the position on that issue, whereas gun control supporters would have an array of priorities, with that being only one of them.

BARONE:  I think that's true, and I think -- but I think also gun control has been a proxy for a number of issues.

HUME:  Ah!

BARONE:  In rural...

HUME:  Is it now a cultural...

BARONE:  In rural areas, it's sort of -- you know, you like gun control, you like country music, you like...

HUME:  You like guns, you mean?

BARONE:  Yeah, guns.  Excuse me.  Gun ownership.  And you like traditional cultural values -- you know, strong Christian background and so forth.  That whole -- on those whole -- many people who share those views feel that the national Democratic Party really doesn't like them very much and thinks they're a problem.  Their attitude towards guns is, "What are you complaining about guns?  We don't use our guns illegally.  We don't hurt people.  The guns we own are used legally and safely" and for what they believe are healthy activities and for self-protection.  So why not concentrate on the criminals that are using guns improperly?

And one of the lines the Republicans discovered in 2000 -- they said, "Look, we've got enough gun control laws on the books.  Let's enforce them better, enforce them more."  And some of the laws that the gun control advocates have passed at the national level didn't generate many enforcement cases.  That's now being changed by the Bush administration,

HUME:  Now, let's talk about what we can look ahead to.  John Ashcroft, the attorney general, has come out with a position arguing basically that the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution does, indeed, protect private ownership of guns.  There's a lot of cases that suggests otherwise.  Democrats have traditionally taken the opposite view.  Democratic Justice Departments have taken the opposite view.  Presumably, there'll be a decision to be made by the Republican -- the Senate leadership about whether to try to force gun control of one kind or another onto the agenda.  What are we likely to see the Democrats doing and not doing in the months ahead?

BARONE:  Well, I think we will not see Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who's very worried about his South Dakota Democratic colleague, Tim Johnson's chances in the 2002 election, among other things -- I don't think we're going to see Tom Daschle bringing up gun control.  I mean, in the 2002 election, 23 of the 34 seats up in the Senate are up in "red" states, states that were carried by George W. Bush.  In most of those, gun control is a negative for the Democrats.  So I don't think we'll see those.  I think we may see a case wending its way upward toward and perhaps to the Supreme Court from the 5th Circuit that involves, as a peripheral issue, interpretation of the 2nd Amendment.  The Supreme Court has not spoken much on the 2nd Amendment and not in a very long time.  Recent scholarship over the last two decades suggests that there -- that, in fact, there was an intention to create a right to bear arms, to be limited, but there was still that right, just...

HUME:  And -- and Democrats likely therefore to keep kind of quiet about the issue.

BARONE:  I think that's right.

HUME:  Michael Barone, thank you.

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