Gun Control Push Could Hurt Senate Democrats in 2014


Tom Knighton already touched on the new Washington Post/Pew Research poll showing that not even a majority of Americans express disappointment or anger for the Senate failing to enact the Manchin-Toomey amendment. In fact, the only group that is disappointed in failing to expand background checks is Democrats. A plurality of independents — 48%, to be exact — and 51% of Republicans describe themselves as “very happy” or “relieved” that the measure failed to pass.

As Chris Cillizza concludes, President Barack Obama “wound up losing the message fight over the gun legislation.” Of course, this is what happens when you waste political capital, as President Obama and the White House did, on an issue that only 4% of Americans really care about.

“Rather than a conversation centered on widely-popular measures supported by members of both parties,” he explained, “the debate — at least as people perceived it — became a wider referendum on the proper place for guns in society.”

The Manchin-Toomey amendment was a ruse, when it all came down to it. Most gun dealers who sell firearms at gun shows have an Federal Firearms License (FFL), meaning that they are required to perform a background check on a buyer. Moreover, gun purchases conducted through the Internet have to finalized in person by a dealer with an FFL, once again meaning that the buyer has to go through the background check process.

What the gun control debate did do, however, was put a couple vulnerable, red state Democrats who are up for re-election next year in an uncomfortable position. Others in gun-friendly, though generally toss-up states, may also have some explaining to do.

The gun control issues has been historically unfriendly to Democrats. In 1994, the year Congress passed Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Assault Weapons Ban, they were routed at the ballot box and lost control of both chambers.

Former President Bill Clinton, who was in office when this happened, warned members of his party to tread carefully on the issue. Of course, they didn’t pay attention, and now the issue, as Cillizza explained, has become “wider referendum on the proper place for guns in society.”

And now the issue could spin completely out-of-control for Democrats ahead of the 2014 mid-terms. Writing at the National Journal earlier this week, Josh Kraushaar explained that gun control opponents are seeing a lot of political weakness and a potentially rough time for Democrats next year.

“Put simply, the 2014 Senate elections will be fought predominantly on the very turf that is most inhospitable to gun control–Southern and Mountain West conservative states,” wrote Kraushaar. “It’s no coincidence that three of the four Democrats who opposed the Toomey-Manchin bill are facing difficult reelections in 2014 and presumably are attuned to the sentiments of their constituents.”

“Blame the National Rifle Association for the bill’s failure, but the lobby is feeding into already deeply held opposition to gun regulations and a broader sense of anxiety about the president’s and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s intentions–particularly given the president’s past publicized remark about ‘bitter’ rural voters who “cling to their guns and religion.’” he added “It doesn’t take much for the gun-rights crowd, significant in these states, to jump to inaccurate conclusions given that history.”

President Obama can complain all he wants about his gun control measures going down in the Senate, but the fact of the matter is that Chicago or New York City simply do not represent the pulse of America on the issue. And the White House’s mistaken belief that they could use a tragedy to push long-standing anti-gun ideas may well hurt them next year.

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