Democrats, led by President Barack Obama, are calling on Congress to enact legislation to further restrict gun rights. This comes after the December mass shooting in California by two Muslim shooters that claimed the lives of 14 people. In a video that was recorded on the day of the shooting, Obama expressed frustration that Congress has not passed a bill that would ban people on the federal government’s so-called “no-fly” list from purchasing firearms. He wants officials at all levels of government and of both parties to “make these [shootings] rare.”
"We should never think that this is just something that just happens in the ordinary course of events, because it doesn’t happen with the same frequency in other countries," Obama said in the interview. He later said that the San Bernardino shootings may or may not have been acts of terrorism.
It has since emerged that the two shooters, Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, were both Muslims who had become radicalized over the last year. They each wielded pistols and what police described as "AR-15" style long guns. After their deaths in a police shoot out on the evening following the attack, police found pipe bombs and thousands of rounds of ammunition in their home. They left a six-month-old baby with Farook's mother before the rampage. Malik was a Pakistani national who married Farook in Saudi Arabia two years ago. Farook was a U.S. citizen who was employed by San Bernardino County as an environmental specialist at the Inland Regional Center, where the shooting took place.
Concern over Clinton's campaign
While Obama is a lame duck, Democrats are concerned over their chances in the November 2016 presidential election. A Washington Post/ABC News poll found in November that a record high 54 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Obama is handling terrorism, while 57 percent disapproved of his handling of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. While Clinton currently gets higher approval in the poll for handling terrorism than Donald Trump (50 to 42 percent), her electability could be tied to her response to incidents such as the shootings in San Bernardino and fears Americans have over incidents such as the November 13 terrorist attack in Paris. In a Democratic presidential debate just one day after the Paris attack, Clinton said “This can’t be an American fight…We will support those who take the fight to ISIS.” Since then, Clinton has tweaked her message. On December 3, Clinton said “This is a worldwide fight. And America must lead it.” Tying Clinton, who served as Secretary of State throughout much of Obama's tenure, to a failed foreign policy could hurt her chances for election, especially given heightened public concerns over foreign and domestic terrorism, and national security.
How Democrats want to lead on national security: reframe the issue
In their messages in the aftermath of the San Bernardino shootings, Democrats appear to draw attention away from the ISIS threat and Obama’s apparent foreign policy failures by calling for further gun control: a pet issue for Democrats and leftists. By referring to the California incident as an act of "domestic terrorism" caused by lax gun control laws, Democrats, who traditionally poll lower than Republicans on defense, may be seeking to cast Republicans as the weaker party on national security. On December 3, Democratic presidential candidate O'Malley said on MSNBC that the San Bernardino shootings may have been a case of domestic terrorism but that access to firearms is an underlying factor. "Look, this may well be an act of domestic terrorism, but it’s also one that’s made easier by the fact that we're the only developed nation on the planet that doesn't do a damn thing to keep combat assault weapons out of the hands of those who shouldn't be able to get them," he told host José Díaz-Balart.
Sen. Sanders, who some gun control advocates have said is too soft on the issue, issued a series of tweets on December 3 that called for new gun laws. Sanders said, “We need to make gun trafficking a federal crime and give law enforcement the tools they need to get illegal guns off the streets ... We need to close the gun show loophole ... We need to close loopholes that allow domestic abusers and stalkers to obtain guns ..." and "We need to strengthen penalties for straw purchasers who buy guns from licensed dealers on behalf of people prohibited from buying a gun."
Democrats follow White House and Democratic Party messaging on gun control
In support of Obama, various Democrats and their supporters immediately echoed his sentiments and calls for gun control shortly after the attack. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) said in a statement that "yet another American community is reeling from the horror of gun violence." Eschewing any connection of the crime to terrorism or Islamic radicalism, Pelosi stated, "Gun violence is a crisis of epidemic proportions in our nation.” She added, “Congress has a moral responsibility to vote on common-sense measures to prevent the daily agony of gun violence in communities across America. Enough is enough.”
In the Senate, Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said "Yet again our country is faced with another sickening act of gun violence perpetrated against innocent people.” “Gun violence has become a cancer on this nation," said Reid. "We are better than this. Too often we are turning on our televisions to scenes of horror like those we are witnessing today. This madness must stop."
Fellow Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California added, “these deadly shootings aren’t slowing down.” In a statement, Feinstein said “When a convicted felon can walk into a gun show and buy an assault rifle, that’s a problem... When an individual with a known mental illness can buy an assault rifle online, that’s a problem. When a terrorist who can’t board an airplane can buy an assault rifle in a gun store, that’s a problem.” Pointing the finger at gun rights organizations, Feinstein said “Congress also has a problem -- a debilitating fear of upsetting the gun lobby.”
Prayers Not Needed
Numerous congressional Republicans and presidential candidates, and some Democrats, called for prayers for the victims and their families. Among them were Rep. Pelosi. Other Democrats, echoing tweets and messages from leftists such as Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos, were dismissive of prayers. Sen. Christopher Murphy (D-CT) caused an uproar on social media when he criticized Republicans for their thoughts and prayers. Murphy said Republicans should be held responsible for not passing gun control legislation. "Your ‘thoughts’ should be about steps to prevent this carnage," Mr. Murphy said. “Your ‘prayers’ should be for forgiveness if you do nothing -- again.”
The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff of California, dismissed a call for prayer by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). "This has become a ritual in the House. I would much rather have moments of action than moments of silence on the House floor," Schiff said. He too called for more gun control legislation.
Democrats running for president were quick to opine about the causes of the California carnage. For example, Hillary Clinton tweeted that immediate "action to stop gun violence" is needed. She wrote, I refuse to accept this as normal. We must take action to stop gun violence now. –H.” The final “H” in the tweets indicates that it was Clinton herself, not an aide, who wrote the tweet.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders claimed that "mass shootings are becoming an almost-everyday occurrence" in the United States. He wrote “This sickening and senseless gun violence must stop.”
Among the first Democrats to turn the message to gun control after the attack, Martin O'Malley tweeted that Americans need to stand up to the National Rifle Association. He tweeted, “Horrifying news out of #SanBernardino. Enough is enough: it's time to stand up to the @NRA and enact meaningful gun safety laws”
In a blog post at Democracy for America -- a pro-Democratic party organization -- Omer Farouque entered a blog post that quoted DFA executive director Charles Chamberlain. Chamberlain directed himself at Republicans voting on gun control legislation on December 3, “Are you going to stand with the American people and pass common-sense gun reform? Or are you going to continue to side with the terrorists who perpetrate these crimes and the merchants of death in the gun industry who make it easier for them to do it?”
At the Republican Jewish Forum on December 3, Republican presidential candidates had a chance to address foreign policy. However, they did not get into gun control. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, after calling for a moment of silence for the victims of the San Bernardino attack, said the shoot-out "underscores that we are in a time of war." He warned of a “gathering storm of homicidal maniacs who tell us they want to kill us," and called for decisive action to stop the Islamic State. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the GOP needs to negotiate with Democrats before sending troops to Syria and "Kill every one of these bastards we can find."
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was more nuanced. While calling for prayers, he accused Obama of putting "his own legacy ahead of our mutual security." Rubio warned that Islamic terror poses a threat to "Paris or London or New York or Miami."
For his part, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former prosecutor, told the audience that he is "convinced that was a terrorist attack" while warning "We need to come to grips with the fact we're in the midst of the next world war."