Politics and Guns
In June of 2010, then candidate Johnson was asked by a Tea Party group what kind of gun restrictions he might support. As we might expect from any decent human being with common sense, Johnson gave a perfectly reasonable response: "You know, like we license cars and stuff, I don't have a real, I don't have a real problem in minimal licensing and stuff. I mean I don't."
New to politics, Johnson had not a clue as to the extent to which the gun lobby controls (this is the real "gun control") the modern Republican Party. He was forced to retract the comments, said he used the "wrong word," and by July of 2012 he was framing ownership of high capacity clips and magazines as a constitutional right. In other words, by July of 2012 Johnson on the issue of gun safety had become just one more hack Republican: no resolve to do anything about the problem, no courage to stand up to extreme elements of the gun lobby; talk of licensing now a distant memory.
But I don't think anyone, including Republicans, ever expected much more than party hackery from RoJo on most issues. What was more disturbing, rather, was Feingold's response at the time of Johnson's 2010 pro-licensing comment. The campaign put out a radio ad attacking Johnson, with Feingold saying "I approve this message because you shouldn't have to wait in line at the DMV to get a license for your constitutional rights and freedoms." That was the Democrat.
After Johnson flip-flopped and groveled at the feet of the NRA, the Feingold campaign said, "Russ Feingold has never needed a do-over when it comes to opposing gun registration." That was the Democrat.
In essence, Feingold was attempting to run to the right of Johnson on gun control. This was not unique to Feingold; since guns became a wedge issue in the 1980s, the typical Democratic response has been to "position" themselves in ways that might maintain the party base while not alienating independents.
The result? The so-called gun debate in the United States, when it does happen (usually after horrific tragedies like Columbine, Virgina Tech, Aurora, and Newtown), is skewed way to the right. Policy items like licensing and registration, which would be prerequisites for any serious attempt to do something legislatively about guns, are off the table from the start.
As long as Republicans are easily intimidated and bullied by the gun lobby, and as long as Democrats choose positioning over principle, we are not likely to see any meaningful changes in gun policy coming out of Washington or the state capitols.