Parties can change their character slowly and almost imperceptibly over time. To see how it has changed you have to look back quite a way and do a comparison. Can you imagine any Republicans today voting in favor of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993? I can’t.

As a refresher, while attempting to kill President Reagan, John Hinckley shot his press secretary Jim Brady in the head. Brady survived, but he has been confined to a wheelchair ever since the shooting and his speech is slurred. The handgun bill named in his honor (and passed through his advocacy) created background checks for the purchase of handguns from federally licensed dealers and it prohibited the sale across state lines of guns to felons, the certifiably insane, people dishonorably discharged from the military, and other groups. Needless to say, the NRA opposed the bill and reacted to its passage with Palin-like delusion and paranoia.

Nonetheless, the following Republican senators voted for the Brady Bill.

    Kit Bond of Missouri
    John Chafee of Rhode Island
    Dan Coats of Indiana
    William Cohen of Maine
    John Danforth of Missouri
    David Durenberger of Minnesota
    Slade Gorton of Washington
    Mark Hatfield of Oregon
    Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas
    Jim Jeffords of Vermont
    Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas
    Richard Lugar of Indiana
    Bob Packwood of Oregon
    Bill Roth of Delaware
    Strom Thurmond of South Carolina
    John Warner of Virginia

Sens. Bond, Hutchison, and Lugar are still in the Senate, but none of them would dare today to cross the NRA and the lunatic base of their party and vote for gun control legislation. I can’t imagine Republican senators from South Carolina or Virginia or Texas voting for handgun regulations in this political climate. Most of the people on that list could never hope to win the nomination to represent the modern Republican Party.

I’m not even a fan of federal gun control laws and I might have joined Pat Leahy in opposing the Brady Bill. My point here isn’t to argue for or against that particular bill, but to demonstrate how much the Republican Party has changed since 1993.

The roll calls on NAFTA and the Family & Medical Leave Act are also instructive.

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