Is Gun Control Out for the Count?


Immediately after the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the conventional wisdom was that Congress would act to pass new gun-control laws. How else, after all, would you respond to the massacre of 20 children? But while Sandy Hook galvanized gun-control supporters—including President Barack Obama—to act, it didn’t dissolve opposition. The National Rifle Association (NRA) and its allies in Congress have had great success in intimidating lawmakers and weakening proposed regulations. It’s because of the NRA that an assault-weapons ban is off the table, as are proposals that would place limits on magazine sizes.

As of yet, however, the NRA hasn’t been able to kill a proposal for universal background checks. It’s the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s push for gun control, and the main point of the president's activism on the issue. What’s more, as reported yesterday by The Washington Post, several lawmakers are working on a deal to move forward with the proposal. Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia—who holds an “A” rating from the NRA—and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania (a conservative Republican), are crafting the framework of a deal on universal background checks. Here is the Post with more:

Manchin and Toomey are developing a measure to require background checks for all gun purchases except sales between close family members and some hunters, which addresses concerns of some conservatives, according to the aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about the talks.

Toomey is usually a reliable conservative vote for Senate Republicans, but he faces reelection in a Democratic-leaning state in 2016. A new player in the months-long gun talks, he is one of several GOP senators who have said that they would be receptive to supporting an expanded background-check program if a bipartisan deal were to emerge. As a former House lawmaker, Toomey remains close to House Republicans who represent the suburbs of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, some of whom have said that they are open to striking bipartisan compromises on gun legislation in part because support for new gun laws is strong in those areas of the state.

Of course, even if Manchin and Toomey come to a deal, they’ll have to contend with the opposition from a growing group of GOP senators. According to Politico, there are 13 Senate Republicans—led by Rand Paul of Kentucky—who plan to filibuster any new gun restrictions, regardless of what they are. What’s more, a new pro-gun group—the Gun Owners of America—is pressuring Republicans to fall in line with Paul and other right-wing Republicans to oppose new gun-control laws.

To a large degree, the public has turned the corner on guns. The latest national survey from Quinnipiac University, for example, shows near-universal support for universal background checks—91 percent of voters are in favor, including 88 percent of gun owners. Likewise, the inaugural Morning Joe/Marist poll released last Wednesday shows 87-percent support for a similar measure.

Few things in American politics command that much support, and yet, between the GOP’s anti-Obama intransigence and the overall status-quo bias of Congress and the federal government, the odds are still with those who oppose new gun regulations. That’s not to say that things are hopeless, but at this moment there’s no reason to think Congress will move to put any new limits on who can purchase a gun.