Gun-Rights Groups Celebrate as Gun Control Recedes From 2020 Debate

Coverage of gun control drops after end of O'Rourke's confiscation campaign

Activists gather across from the White House / Getty Images

Gun control has increasingly taken a back seat in coverage of the 2020 primary, upsetting proponents and causing celebration among opponents, who believe the drop-off shows the issue is a loser even in the Democratic primary.

In interviews with the Washington Free Beacon, gun-rights groups argued that the media have downplayed gun control and candidates have avoided it because 2020 hopefuls who have run on the issue have failed. A Free Beacon analysis lent credence to this claim, finding that gun control is no longer drawing the same media attention it did in the aftermath of the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. The issue was all but absent from the most recent Democratic debate, a fact lamented by gun-control advocates.

These changes, the gun-rights supporters argued, indicate that gun bans and confiscation schemes are a losing issue even among Democrats.

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"Even in a Democratic presidential primary, every candidate who campaigned primarily on extreme gun ban platforms has been rejected," Catherine Mortensen, an NRA spokesperson, told the Free Beacon. "While the remaining candidates and their media allies may try and sweep this issue under the rug, rest assured the NRA knows that they share those same out-of-the-mainstream views and we will appropriately inform all voters."

A Free Beacon review of cable news interviews confirmed that mentions of gun control have declined. In the time between former candidate Beto O'Rourke's pivot to gun confiscation and the end of his campaign, the terms "gun control" and "gun safety" were mentioned an average of 19 times per day. In the time between the end of O'Rourke's campaign and the November Democratic debate, they were only mentioned seven times per day on average.

The nearly three-fold drop in discussion of the gun issue on cable news coincides with a drop in candidates mentioning it during interviews. Candidates were four times more likely to mention guns during cable news interviews between the mass shooting in El Paso on August 3 and the last day of O'Rourke's campaign on October 31. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), billionaire Tom Steyer, and Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) were the only candidates who mentioned guns in cable news interviews after O'Rourke dropped out.

This decline may reflect other trends, including a fall in the number of mass shootings and an increase in media attention on impeachment. Gun-rights proponents, however, interpreted the findings as a shift in priorities.

"The Democrats and their friends in the media realized that the terms gun control and so-called gun safety became equated to gun prohibition and confiscation in the battleground states," Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation told the Free Beacon.

The decline culminated in an all-but-total absence of gun control from November's Democratic debate. Gun-control groups—including Everytown, Moms Demand Action, Giffords, and March For Our Lives—decried this absence, arguing that guns should have been a top priority during the MSNBC debate.

"Gun violence was not a topic of discussion at tonight's Democratic Debate," March For Our Lives tweeted. "But it was the main topic of conversation in hospital beds, back yards, schools, football games and neighborhoods this week. It's on the forefront of our minds. It should have been brought up tonight."

But Democrats might know something March For Our Lives does not, argued Mark Oliva, director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation—that gun control is a losing issue.

"What was noticeable was the most vocal supporters for radical control, those who openly called for outright confiscation of firearms, weren't on the stage," Oliva said. "Democratic candidates are learning the hard way their anti-gun and anti-rights messages don't resonate beyond their cocktail parties."

Gun-rights supporters pointed to O'Rourke and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D., Calif.) as the top examples of failed presidential candidates who pinned their electoral hopes on gun control. Swalwell ran almost exclusively on a plan to confiscate "assault weapons" but failed to garner any support before dropping out. In the wake of the El Paso shooting and with his campaign support stuck in the low single digits, O'Rourke pivoted towards a similar scheme. After failing to gain any momentum, he also dropped out at the end of October.

Gun-rights groups did, however, raise concerns about billionaire Michael Bloomberg's entrance into the race. The former New York City mayor has bankrolled much of the gun-control movement in the United States over the last few decades. He pumped $110 million dollars into pro-gun-control candidates' campaigns in 2018 alone, according to his campaign website. Bloomberg's entrance, combined with his abundant resources, could cause renewed interest in the gun debate.

"Now that Michael Bloomberg has entered the race he will force the gun-control issue back to the top of their talking point list," Gottlieb said. "He is the number one person in America that funds and promotes the attack on Second Amendment rights."