The next step on gun control
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.”
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.
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