In the race for the White House, the hot button issue of guns is no longer a taboo, despite its potential to backfire at the ballot box.
President Barack Obama — in his initial 2008 presidential campaign, and again during his bid for re-election in 2012 — shied away from the explosive subject fearing a backlash from voters bent on safeguarding their means of self-defense.
But since then, much innocent blood has been spilled.
Obama is now openly calling for America to change its stance on gun control. And the first debate featuring Democratic presidential hopefuls that took place in Las Vegas last week unexpectedly turned to the topic.
“I was very gratified to see all the candidates at the Democratic debate address guns and gun violence in America because heretofore that’s the subject no one wants to bring up and that night it was at the forefront,” Andy Parker, whose 24-year-old daughter, a reporter, was shot dead during a live television broadcast in August, told AFP.
“There is going to be a clear choice in the presidential election. That’s a referendum on guns,” added Parker, who in a matter of weeks has become one of the most high-profile advocates for gun control in the United States.
Recent shootings have also pushed candidates to position themselves.
Earlier this month, following a summer that saw a rise in homicides in major US cities, a community college in Oregon was the scene of a gun-related rampage that left nine dead. The perpetrator, a 26-year-old male, committed suicide.
– Clinton at the forefront –
Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has unveiled a plan to tighten the nation’s gun laws, the cornerstone of which is to expand the background check system for weapons purchases to keep arms from getting into the wrong hands.
“It’s time the entire country stood up against the NRA,” the powerful gun lobby, she told the nearly 16 million watching the televised Las Vegas debate.
The National Rifle Association, reputed to have many members of Congress in its pocket, paints every arms control proposition as an attack against the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.
By positioning herself as a leader on gun control in the camp of Democratic presidential hopefuls, Clinton hopes to widen her lead over her main rival, US Senator Bernie Sanders.
Sanders seems uncomfortable with the subject and has in the past defended gun lobby positions.
Representing the state of Vermont that is home to a numerous hunters, Sanders has in recent days been taken to task by Democrats for his support of pro-gun ownership views — a stance traditionally seen as being more in line with Republican thinking.
But the injection of guns into the campaign has been well received by many in the GOP, convinced their opponents will get burned.
– Trump feels better armed –
The Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, for one, recently said he feels “much better being armed.”
Taking up an old, pro-gun lobbying strategy that has proven successful, he suggested that the Obama administration was planning to confiscate guns from US homes, something the president has never put forward.
Still, some experts agree that, over time, traditional supporters of the NRA — older whites who live in rural areas and are relatively uneducated — will decline.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s a growing part of the population that is largely reticent when it comes to the possession of weapons — Asians and predominantly Hispanics, who make up 17 percent of the population at the moment.
“With continued high-profile incidents of mass shootings in the US… and with the increasing diversity of the American voter (more immigrants, more minorities, few whites from a European background), Democrat candidates are feeling more confident to returning to a traditional issue they have supported since the 1960s — gun control,” Gregg Carter, a professor at Bryant University in Rhode Island, told AFP.