The next step on gun control

April 18, 2013

Politicians know they incur a big political risk if they support gun-control legislation.  Gun-control advocates have to demonstrate that there is also a political risk if they do not support sensible gun legislation.

The only way to do that is to defeat someone who voted against background checks.  Their defeat will become a “teachable moment.”

But who?

Three of the four Democratic senators who voted against background checks on Wednesday are up for re-election next year.  They represent conservative, largely rural states that voted for Mitt Romney last year: Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Max Baucus of Montana.

The fact that they are running next year was almost certainly the main reason why they were unwilling to support the amendment.  (The fourth Democratic “no” vote, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, is not up for re-election until 2018.)

Any campaign to defeat these senators would surely cause the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups to rally to their support – and send the message that opposing gun control can save you.

It might be easier to defeat them in a Democratic primary.  But Democrats might not be able to hold onto the Senate seat if they nominate an “anti-gun” candidate in those states.  Is it worth taking the risk of losing the seat to a Republican?

Tea Party activists make similar calculations all the time, and often conclude that it is worth the risk.  They will risk losing a Republican seat (like that of former Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana), to demonstrate that there is a price to be paid for defying the Tea Party.  That has enabled the Tea Party to strike fear into Republican legislators and force them to toe the conservative line.

The other option is to work to defeat Republican senators who voted against background checks.  Some come from states where they could be vulnerable: Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Ron Johnson (Wisconsin), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Marco Rubio (Florida). Their states all voted for President Barack Obama in 2012. But none of those Republicans is up for re-election in 2014.

A vote in the House of Representatives, where every seat is up in 2014, would present more potential targets. Last year, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent $3.3 million to defeat Representative Joe Baca, a pro-gun Democrat in California. Baca was beaten by an anti-gun Democrat, Gloria Negrete McLeod, a month before the Sandy Hook massacre.  It was possible because of California’s new election rules — candidates from all parties run in the same primary, and the top two vote-getters compete in the November election.

Bloomberg spent more money than both candidates raised between them. His TV ads and mailers rallied the anti-gun forces. “It sends a message,” Bloomberg’s chief strategist said. “You can lose your seat by voting against prudent gun control legislation.’’

That was an unusual circumstance: two Democrats competing in a district where Obama’s campaign brought out a lot of liberal voters Obama carried the district by 37 points; McLeod won by 12. The combination of Bloomberg’s money and Obama’s leadership could build a nationwide grass-roots movement for gun control to counter the NRA.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) voted “no” on background checks for procedural reasons. It enables Reid to bring the measure up for another vote. He is unlikely to do that, however, unless there is a compelling reason to believe that at least six senators will change their votes from “no” to “yes.” Sadly, that may take another tragedy where another mentally unstable person gets hold of a gun.

Supporters argue that universal background checks are not gun control. They are simply a way to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals. Most gun owners, in fact, do support background checks. The argument against them? The NRA’s delirious fantasy that background checks are the first step toward a national gun registry that will enable the federal government to confiscate all firearms.

But the amendment the Senate voted on Wednesday explicitly prohibited a national gun registry. “The gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill,” an angry Obama said after the vote.

Was there any good news for gun control advocates Wednesday?  Yes. The background check amendment did get majority support. Just not the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate.  The U.S. Senate is the only legislative body in the world where the majority does not rule on most routine matters

The Senate also did defeat three amendments favored by the NRA that would have weakened gun laws.  And 90 percent of Democrats voted for background checks, including some pro-gun senators from red states (North Carolina, Missouri, Montana and Louisiana). Both the Pew Research Center and the National Opinion Research Center report a long-term decline in the number of households with a gun.

It will take time, money and effort for the gun issue to turn around.  But there are clear signs that the politics of the gun issue are beginning to change.  A few more choice defeats of pro-gun politicians would speed that process along.


PHOTO (Top):President Barack Obama speaks next to Vice President Joe Biden on measures to reduce gun violence, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington April 17, 2013. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

PHOTO (Insert A): Nelba Marquez Greene (R), her husband Jimmy Green, and her mother Elba Marquez, grieve over the loss of their daughter Ana Grace Marquez Green (in photo) at the launch of the Sandy Hook Promise in Newtown, Connecticut January, 14, 2013. REUTERS/Gary He/Insider

PHOTO (Insert B): New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks to reporters after his meeting with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington February 27, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

PHOTO (Insert C): U.S. Capitol Building is pictured in Washington, February 27, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed


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It takes massive amounts of money to run a successful election. The California representative was helped by Bloomberg’s money? The NRA donating lots of money to other (potential) members of Congress.

Doesn’t something feel wrong about this?

Posted by molocules | Report as abusive

But that was no sensible legislation… Just spin and misdirection. Nothing proposed would have prevented Sandy Hook. Even the Dept of Justice says that less than 1% of criminals get guns from gun shows. The problem is that the issue is very complex and our politicians are of simple minds. Most guns that criminals get their hands on come from black market sales. This is where the focus needs to be but even more so is the need to protect our students and individuals in “gun free” zones. Not one word of any form of funding for armed guards or training was mentioned in the bill. What a waste of time. Shame on the DNC for using this horrific event to further their agendas. When sensible legislation appears in Congress I will be all for it.

Posted by 2B.Free | Report as abusive

This is an opinion piece and Mr. Schneider is certainly welcome to his opinion. There is however a bit of duplicity showing in the exultation of Michael Bloomberg’s money distorting the outcome of distant political races while decrying the NRA’s involvement in similar activity.

I suspect Mr. Schneider that you never read the Manchin-Toomey compromise and therefore any discussion of it’s vague wording on critical features would be wasted on you.

Thank you for giving me impetus to buy a NRA life membership for my wife and several more employees. Bloomberg is one man with a lot of money. The NRA is 4 million Americans with a little money and a lot of energy. We’ll see who punishes who in the mid-terms next year.

Posted by CaptnCrunch | Report as abusive

A more zealous anti gun bigot is hard to imagine, Short of Bloomberg or Fienstien. And the Polls that keep being quoted are as bogus as the polls that the Republicans listened to in the last election. So keep doing what you are doing and see who comes out right

Posted by DOOM2U | Report as abusive