Why Bill Clinton is right on guns

Former President Bill Clinton issued a stern warning to House Democrats late last week: Take advantage of the emerging gun-control debate, but tread carefully.

Former President Bill Clinton, photographed on Sept. 11, 2012, in Miami. (Wilfredo Lee - AP)

As we noted last Friday, Clinton was very eager to discuss guns when he addressed House Democrats at a retreat last week, saying that the brewing debate is "an opportunity, not a toxic landmine."

"I think it’s important to take some action, now that it is possible, on the issue of gun violence, but it’s important to do it right," he added later. "I could go across America if we had time and tell you who survived very well voting for the assault weapons ban and the Brady Bill in ’93 and ’94, and who did not, and why."

The open-press portion of Clinton's remarks didn't include his detailed assessment of how Democrats who supported the 1994 Brady Bill fared that November. (The Brady Bill, also known as the Crime Bill, included a 10-year federal ban on military-style assault weapons -- a ban that some congressional Democrats are once again fighting to reinstate.)

So which Democrats that voted for the bill survived and which lost? We did a little digging of our own.

The House approved the bill on Aug. 21, 1994 by a vote of 235 to 195 -- 188 Democrats and 46 Republicans voted for the bill, 64 Democrats and 131 Republicans voted "no."

Among the 188 Democratic "aye" votes, 29 -- or roughly 15 percent -- lost reelection in November. (Another 15 Democrats who had either lost in a primary or were retiring also voted for the bill.) By comparison, just five of the 64 Democrats who voted against the bill -- or less than 8 percent -- lost reelection in November.

"There were about 19 members on the Democratic side who never should have lost except for the assault weapons ban," said former Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who was among the 46 GOP lawmakers to vote for the bill -- but now says it didn't work.

Before you say anything else -- yes, we know: Clinton's failed attempt at health-care reform, the rise of the Gingrich Republicans and shifting political winds in individual districts also contributed to Democratic congressional losses in 1994.

But as you can see in the full voting list below, most of the 29 Democrats hailed from midwestern, southern, western and predominantly rural districts with strong gun cultures. (If you look at the 64 Democratic "no" votes, many also hailed from those types of districts, but others came from urban/liberal districts and decided to vote against it because it didn't go far enough.)

Clinton clearly had these losses in mind on Friday. After all, he was speaking to a caucus that is decidedly more liberal in its membership 1994. Clinton himself -- a moderate Arkansas Democrat -- would be out of place in today's House and Senate Democratic caucuses, so it was notable that he felt obligated to counsel his colleagues on how to talk to gun-owning Americans about gun control.

To wit:

"I think we ought to stay with this issue, but you can do it in a way that recognizes that there are people out there that aren’t supposed to be part of our demographic, they’re thinking about this too. … I guarantee you, a lot of people from where I grew up were asking themselves this practical question: If that young man had had the load three time as often as he did, would all those children have been killed? People just out in the country that make a living … they asking questions, they’re thinking about it …  And they’re more likely to be able to figure out the answer to that than most of us who don’t live with this every day. So turn in to this. Treat these people as our friends and neighbors, people we share a country with."

Will Democrats heed Clinton's warnings and find ways to discuss this issue more effectively in more rural and conservative regions of the country? If they do, they could stave off potential heavy losses in the 2014 midterm elections.


Peter Barca (D-Wis.)

James Bilbray (D-Nev.)

Jack Brooks (D-Texas)

Leslie Byrne (D-Va.)

Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.)

Buddy Darden (D-Ga.)

Karan English (D-Ariz.)

Eric Fingerhut (D-Ohio)

Tom Foley (D-Wash.)

Dan Glickman (D-Kan.)

Dan Hamburg (D-Calif.)

Peter Hoagland (D-Neb.)

George Hochbrueckner (D-N.Y.)

Jay Inslee (D-Wash.)

Don Johnson (D-Ga.)

Herb Klein (D-N.J.)

Mike Kreidler (D-Wash.)

Martin Lancaster (D-N.C.)

Richard Lehman (D-Calif.)

Jill Long (D-Ind.)

David Mann (D-Ohio)

Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky (D-Pa.)

Frank McCloskey (D-Ind.)

David Price (D-N.C.)

Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.)

Lynn Schenk (D-Calif.)

Karen Shepherd (D-Utah)

Neal Smith (D-Iowa)

Dick Swett (D-N.H.)


Lucien Blackwell (D-Pa.)


Douglas Applegate (D-Ohio)

Jim Bacchus (D-Fla.)

Butler Derrick (D-S.C.)

Don Edwards (D-Calif.)

William Ford (D-Mich.)

William Hughes (D-N.J.)

Marilyn Lloyd (D-Tenn.)

Romano Mazzoli (D-Ky.)

Stephen Neal (D-N.C.)

J.J. Pickle (D-Texas)

George Sangmeister (D-Ill.)

Philip Sharp (D-Ind.)

Al Swift (D-Wash.)

Jamie Whitten (D-Miss.)

Aaron Blake contributed to this report.

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.



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