By Alan Gottlieb and Joe Waldron

Writing in the Boston Globe Dec. 17, reporter Susan Milligan noted that the Democratic Party, “long identified with gun control, is rethinking its approach to the gun debate, seeking to improve the chances of its candidates in Western states where hunters have been wary of casting votes for a party with a national reputation of being against guns.”

Later, she notes that a spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence “acknowledged that gun control supporters have done a poor job of framing their arguments in ways that do not make lawful hunters fear their lifestyle is under attack.”

Milligan’s well-written piece, unfortunately, did not explain that the Second Amendment has nothing to do with hunting, nor did it say that Democrats are changing their opinions about guns and the people who own them. Not surprisingly, gun rights activists who frequent – the busiest firearms rights website in the country – were quick to pick up on this. Wrote one correspondent: “It’s always ‘seeking to improve the chances of its candidates’. Notice exactly whom that serves…OK, contrast it to ‘seeking to better understand their constituents’ needs’.”

Throughout the Globe article, there were repeated references to hunters, but the vast majority of law-abiding gun owners in this country aren’t hunters. They own firearms for personal protection, competition, recreational shooting and collecting. Even hunters own guns for other purposes. Many gun owners simply like to tinker with firearms the way car buffs spend hours under the hoods of their high-performance sports cars.

Democrats will not acknowledge that they really aren’t changing their underlying philosophy about guns, they’re simply trying to repackage the message to make it less offensive to the tens of millions of Americans upon whose gun rights they want to infringe. They stopped calling it “gun control” and now call it “gun safety,” but the product is always the same: Some new scheme that ratchets down on a citizen’s right to own a gun. Sometimes, as reported by the St. Petersburg Times recently, they shy away from the gun issue altogether, terrified to admit that theirs is the party of restrictive gun laws.

Brady spokesman Peter Hamm said gun owners are wary that efforts to ban so-called “assault weapons” are actually aimed at taking someone’s hunting rifle. No, that’s not the problem, Peter. The problem is that semi-automatic rifles and shotguns used by hunters operate the same as the ugly black guns targeted by such bans. The problem is that Democrats treat the right to bear arms as a privilege, subject to myriad regulations and the whims of Congress and state legislatures.

Gun owners understand this is about a Constitutional right, equal in standing to the right of free speech, press and religion. It is no less important than the right to legal counsel for those accused of crimes, or the right to be secure in one’s person, house, papers and effects against unreasonable search and seizure.

The firearms community knows that if Congress can ban one kind of firearm, it will be easier to ban other kinds of guns later on.

Democrats just don’t get it. Gun owners aren’t stupid. They know what’s at stake. Gun owners are a rather independent lot. They value their liberty. They frame the issue as not being one about guns, but about control, of their property and their lives. And, they are right.

If Democrats really want to impress gun owners, they can stop pushing laws – and repeal those now on the books – that strip people of their gun rights for something foolish they may have done 30 years ago as a youth. They can restore funding to allow the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to once again conduct investigations to restore a person’s gun rights. They can oppose laws that allow police to seize someone’s firearms merely on “suspicion.” They can endorse a national concealed carry law. They can vote to overturn the Washington, D.C. gun ban.

But that’s not what Democrats want or believe in, and they know it. They just can’t bring themselves to admit it. Instead, they worry about how to reinvent themselves.

Chameleons do that, but gun owners understand that chameleons, no matter what they look like, are still reptiles.