There are just a few days left until Election Day, and although you might not be hearing it amid all the chatter about email, the Clinton campaign hasn’t backed off its war on the National Rifle Association.
That could have far-reaching implications. If they win, Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine will be in a position to pursue an agenda on guns that would have been unthinkable even to Democrats just a few years ago. And they plan to do it using new language on gun safety that puts the NRA on the defense.
Kaine is the face of a new new kind of gun control messaging: a white dude gun owner who understands skepticism toward people who don’t like guns and who thinks the NRA has lost its way.
“The overwhelming majority of gun owners support the kinds of proposals that we’re pushing, like background record checks,” Kaine told VICE News Tonight. “And sadly, the NRA has switched from being a representative of gun owners to being representative of gun manufacturers.”
If Democrats are going to get new gun laws passed in a Clinton administration, they’ll need guys like Kaine to make their case.
Watch our interview with Tim Kaine from VICE News Tonight on HBO:
The “Gun Violence Prevention” section of HillaryClinton.com calls for laws expanding background checks on gun purchases, says “weapons of war have no place on our streets,” and promises to “take on the gun lobby.”
This was a big part of Clinton’s campaign during the primary, when she sought to draw contrasts with Democratic rival Bernie Sanders. Sanders, a senator from gun-loving Vermont, cast some votes that the NRA liked, creating a natural line of attack for Clinton during the battle for Democratic primary voters, who overwhelmingly support gun control.
As the battle shifted to the general election, Republican nominee Donald Trump tried to peel off blue-collar white Democratic voters with warnings that Clinton is out to unwind the Second Amendment. And the Clinton campaign has continued to pick fights with the NRA.
Last week, Kaine campaigned with Americans for Responsible Solutions, the gun safety group founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly.
ARS is a little different than other gun control groups. Giffords, a mass-shooting victim, and Kelly are both avid gun owners.
“When you have somebody who has never held a gun before talk about ‘high-capacity clips’ — that drives gun guys crazy. It’s a magazine,” Kelly said. “To have people who own guns talking about this, I think it helps.”
Kelly shares Clinton’s disdain for the NRA.
Not that long ago, it was unheard-of for a Democrat on a presidential ticket to talk like this. In 2009, when Democrats controlled the House, Senate, and White House, no new gun laws were proposed. Tussling with the NRA just wasn’t seen as worth the political risk. But that storyline changed after the Newtown, Connecticut, mass shooting in 2012. President Obama, who had always been supportive of more restrictions on gun purchases, pushed hard for new laws and came up short. But he laid the groundwork for a conversation around guns that Clinton has picked up.
Kaine’s evolution is even more pronounced. He started out as a strong supporter of traditional gun control while a mayor of Richmond, Virginia. The state was much redder than it is now, and that kind of gun control wasn’t popular across the state. So when he ran for governor of Virginia in 2005, Kaine explicitly promised “no new gun laws.”
But a year or so into his term, there was a mass shooting at Virginia Tech in which 32 people were murdered. Kaine subsequently helped guide his state to bipartisan gun laws focused mostly on mental health. His efforts drew praise from Republicans.
Kaine said gun safety supporters can bring a new bipartisan push to the national debate as well.
“I believe, and the results in the states are showing this, that legislative bodies will start listening to the voters and not the NRA,” he said.
Kaine will be the highest-ranking gun-owning white guy in America if Clinton wins. Kelly said Kaine’s addition to the ticket could make it easier to get new gun laws passed through a Congress where the NRA still exerts a lot of control.
“He’s a great choice,” Kelly said. “Politically, it helps, for sure.”
That said, Kelly’s group helped the Obama White House craft a series of executive actions around guns after legislation failed in the Republican-controlled Congress — and that strategy may be tapped out.
“I’m not so sure there’s much more the president can do without Congress,” Kelly said.
But Clinton and Kaine are still talking about guns, and that signals a huge shift in politics already.