Staff Columnist

Remember when Democrats didn't want to take your guns?

Gun policy debate has changed sharply since the Obama era

U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell speaks to members of the Linn Phoenix Club at an event at Raygun in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Saturday, April 7, 2018. Swalwell, a 2020 Democratic presidential prospect, visited Iowa to raise funds for 2018 candidates. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell speaks to members of the Linn Phoenix Club at an event at Raygun in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Saturday, April 7, 2018. Swalwell, a 2020 Democratic presidential prospect, visited Iowa to raise funds for 2018 candidates. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

I am old enough to remember when there was a Democrat in the White House, and he didn’t want to take away your guns.

“The notion that I or Hillary [Clinton] or Democrats or whoever you want to choose are hellbent on taking away folks’ guns is just not true. … At no point have I ever, ever proposed confiscating guns from responsible gun owners,” Obama said during a town hall meeting in Indiana hosted by PBS.

Despite some fringe conspiracy theories, what Obama said was true: He supported some additional restrictions on sales of new weapons, but as president he never advocated for the mass confiscation of guns already in U.S. citizens’ possession.


Fast forward to today and note the difference in the gun policy debate. U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat who is openly exploring running for president in 2020, published a USA Today guest column earlier this year calling to ban semi-automatic rifles and “go after resisters.” He used the example of Australia, which imposes some of the world’s highest barriers to gun ownership, a radical departure from U.S. law.

Swalwell doubled down on his position in a particularly ugly way last week. After a Twitter user told Swalwell he would never give up his guns, the congressman replied, “And it would be a short war my friend. The government has nukes. Too many of them. But they’re legit. I’m sure if we talked we could find common ground to protect our families and communities.”

Swalwell followed up to say he was being sarcastic, and has no intention of using nuclear weapons against the American people. What a relief! Nevertheless, his underlying sentiment remains genuine — Swalwell and others believe the government can and should use force to confiscate weapons; the government derives its authority not from the consent of the governed, but from its awesome and deadly power.

Swalwell, who was born in Iowa and moved to California as a child, has made multiple trips here this year to generate interest in his potential presidential campaign. Will his violent rhetoric surrounding gun policy hamper his Democratic caucus ambitions? I doubt it.

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Many Democrats have moved sharply away from Obama’s position in the past two years. Thirty-nine percent now favor repealing the 2nd Amendment altogether, according to a YouGov poll published this year, compared to just 16 percent of independents and 8 percent of Republicans.

Restrictionists have even been successful in changing the name of the debate. It’s now “gun safety,” instead of “gun control,” even though controlling the use and accessibility of firearms is what they explicitly advocate for.

To be fair, it is not only Democrats lurching far to the left in their views about guns and the Constitution. President Donald Trump said earlier this year the government should “take the guns first, go through due process second.”

Way back in the Obama era, almost every politician with a national profile voiced at least token support for the 2nd Amendment. That apparently is no longer a prerequisite to seek the presidency, as long as you have enough nukes to back it up.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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