Following last week's tragic shooting in Oregon, Hillary Clinton is making big promises on gun control. She's even gone so far as to promise "executive action" to restrict gun sales, even though such measures would be constitutionally questionable. Even President Obama, who has not exactly been shy about wielding executive power, seems to think he can't do anything about unilaterally restricting guns judging by his press conference last week.
The fact that Hillary's coming out so strong in favor of gun control is the clearest evidence I've yet seen that she is really, really worried about even winning the Democratic primary at this point. In fact, here's the HuffPo headline -- one that Team Hillary no doubt wanted -- "Hillary Clinton Goes Big On Gun Policy, Creates Contrast With Bernie Sanders." Here are the key paragraphs:
Finally, Clinton will call for a repeal of the legal immunity that gun manufacturers and dealers currently enjoy under a 2005 law called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. This could be the most politically provocative of the four proposals. Not only is the immunity a prized possession of the NRA, but it is something that Sanders voted for while a member of the House of Representatives. Clinton, who was a senator representing New York at the time, voted against it.
Sanders has defended his vote by arguing that the alternative would be akin to punishing a hammer-maker if someone used a hammer as a weapon. But gun control advocates argue that the law opens the door to negligent manufacturers who don't fear being penalized when their firearms flood a community or market.
Clinton’s gun control push doesn’t appear to be an attempt to out-progressive Sanders so much as a thorough rethinking of how to patch up a hole-laden system of gun laws.
That last line about Hillary Clinton not being a political opportunist is generous to the point of absurdity. Her campaign doesn't seem to do anything that isn't focus grouped or poll-tested. It seems clear she's trying to get to the left of Sanders, who's from Vermont where all of the Democrats are unique in that they are both very liberal and very pro-gun. (Another progressive darling from Vermont, Howard Dean, had an A rating from the NRA and was endorsed by that organization eight times for governor. In 2002, Dean was even on record as being against any new federal gun laws.)
So let's assume Hillary Clinton sees an opportunity to get to the left of Sanders on guns and possibly appeal to parts of the Democratic base that have been abandoning her. (And if she's not worried about Sanders at this point she should be; he had a rally of 24,000 people in Boston this weekend, and he's been polling higher than Obama was at this point in 2007.)
The problem is, that while elements of the liberal base may want a crackdown on guns, and she may need that support to get through the primary, going big on the issue creates a Mitt Romney problem for her in the general. If she makes a big issue of it now, she's most likely going to have to tack back to the center after staking out more extreme positions on guns to win the primary, much the way Romney did on immigration and other issues in 2012. The contrast between Romney's "severly conservative" primary rhetoric and his more moderate rhetoric in the general election dogged Romney, and it's hard to see how it won't dog Hillary Clinton on guns as well.