Commentary Magazine


Topic: Manchin-Toomey amendment

Dem Majority in Greater Peril Than the NRA

There’s no doubt liberals will read the cover story of the latest issue of The New Republic with delight. The piece, titled “This is How the NRA Ends” by Alec MacGillis, claims the failure of Congress to pass any gun control measures this year despite the way advocates were able to successfully exploit the Newtown massacre was misleading. The article is filled with breathless accounts of how families of gun violence victims and other activists have joined forces to create what the magazine terms a viable grass roots rival to the National Rifle Association.

TNR predicts the pressure these groups are exerting as well as the financial clout of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Super Pac — which is already spending big on ads criticizing those senators that opposed the Manchin-Toomey amendment on background checks for gun purchases — has permanently altered the equation on the issue. Not only does the piece predict that another background checks bill will eventually succeed in this session of Congress but seems to predict that this alleged sea change will expose NRA’s vaunted influence as being based on an illusion.

But the problem with this thesis is easily exposed in Michael Scherer’s TIME magazine column on Bloomberg’s targeting of the four Democrats who opposed Manchin-Toomey. Democrats like Mark Prior of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska are in the mayor’s well funded cross-hairs right now but the impact of this campaign won’t win any new votes for background checks or the more far-reaching proposals to ban various types of weapons that the gun control movement will try to implement if that more moderate measure is ever passed. As Scherer rightly points out, attempts to replace those senators with Democrats who will promise to vote for restrictions will only result in victories for the Republicans in November 2014 that could tip the balance in the Senate back to the GOP. If anything, the long-term impact of Bloomberg’s efforts will make gun legislation even less likely to pass in the future.

Read More

There’s no doubt liberals will read the cover story of the latest issue of The New Republic with delight. The piece, titled “This is How the NRA Ends” by Alec MacGillis, claims the failure of Congress to pass any gun control measures this year despite the way advocates were able to successfully exploit the Newtown massacre was misleading. The article is filled with breathless accounts of how families of gun violence victims and other activists have joined forces to create what the magazine terms a viable grass roots rival to the National Rifle Association.

TNR predicts the pressure these groups are exerting as well as the financial clout of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Super Pac — which is already spending big on ads criticizing those senators that opposed the Manchin-Toomey amendment on background checks for gun purchases — has permanently altered the equation on the issue. Not only does the piece predict that another background checks bill will eventually succeed in this session of Congress but seems to predict that this alleged sea change will expose NRA’s vaunted influence as being based on an illusion.

But the problem with this thesis is easily exposed in Michael Scherer’s TIME magazine column on Bloomberg’s targeting of the four Democrats who opposed Manchin-Toomey. Democrats like Mark Prior of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska are in the mayor’s well funded cross-hairs right now but the impact of this campaign won’t win any new votes for background checks or the more far-reaching proposals to ban various types of weapons that the gun control movement will try to implement if that more moderate measure is ever passed. As Scherer rightly points out, attempts to replace those senators with Democrats who will promise to vote for restrictions will only result in victories for the Republicans in November 2014 that could tip the balance in the Senate back to the GOP. If anything, the long-term impact of Bloomberg’s efforts will make gun legislation even less likely to pass in the future.

Unlike President Obama and other Democrats who have hoped to use the revived interest in gun control after Newtown to help their party, Bloomberg’s targeting of Prior and Begich is in line with his non-partisan approach. But by attacking pro-gun Democrats in red states while also taking potshots at Republicans in blue states like New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, Bloomberg is setting the president’s party up for a fall.

MacGillis is right to point out that the gun control boomlet isn’t to be dismissed altogether. The joint effort by pro-gun senators like Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Pat Toomey did get closer to victory than any other gun measure has in more than a decade. Moreover, their efforts, along with the group organized by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, which is also geared toward a moderate pro-gun ownership audience, does give the gun control movement a much broader appeal than the liberal base that has always backed these ideas.

It should also be stipulated that the NRA hasn’t exactly covered itself with glory these past six months. Though its membership numbers have soared and it succeeded in stopping every gun control measure that came up for a vote, it came across as insensitive after Newtown. By failing to embrace an inoffensive measure like that of Manchin-Toomey, it lost an opportunity to defuse the pro-gun fervor with something that would have done nothing to endanger Second Amendment rights.

All that and the willingness of some of the Newtown victim families to be used by the gun control movement in a shamelessly emotional manner will not allow the issue to be pigeonholed. It is possible that they will yet triumph either later this year or sometime next year when another such background checks proposal will make it to the floor for another vote. But Bloomberg’s calling Democrats like Pryor out actually makes this less likely since a reversal would allow opponents to brand him as a senator that takes orders from New York’s City Hall, something that would doom him in 2014.

But the point about this struggle is not whether an anodyne measure like Manchin-Toomey is ever signed into law. Rather it is the next round of gun control — whether aimed at so-called assault weapons or other types of guns — that will be the controlling factor in the debate.

The NRA succeeded in stopping Manchin-Toomey in large measure because even its supporters couldn’t claim that it would have prevented the tragedy in Newtown. Many pro-gun voters and their representatives in Washington also understand that the bland assurances about protecting the Second Amendment they have received from the president are simply not credible. They know liberals want more far reaching measures and will never be satisfied with merely increasing background checks. That will ensure their own not inconsiderable fundraising and activism will continue to be intense. Contrary to MacGillis’ analysis that means members of Congress will continue to view its power as real.

Moreover, the electoral math of 2014 makes it hard to see how anyone would look at the upcoming matches in the Senate and the House and foresee the imminent demise of the NRA’s influence. At the very least, a re-energized Republican base angered by the Obama administration’s scandals will enable the GOP to hold its own next year. But without few if any vulnerable Republicans up for re-election (including Ayotte who will face the voters in 2016) and a plethora of incumbent Democrats on the ballot, a GOP majority isn’t out of the question. Indeed, Prior and Begich (who was elected in 2008 in a fluke caused by the now discredited federal prosecution of the late Ted Stevens) are vulnerable to a liberal challenge in a Democratic primary but they might be strengthened in a general election by Bloomberg’s labeling them as cats’ paws of the NRA.

For all of its mistakes and the increased strengths of its foes, the NRA isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, the more its liberal opponents seek to expand their reach into pro-gun states, the more likely it is that it will continue to ensure that the pro-gun rights faction in Congress has enough votes to block the liberal agenda on guns.

Read Less

Will Grief and Rage on Guns Help Dems?

At the White House yesterday afternoon, President Obama did not seek to disguise his anger about the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey amendment on background checks for gun purchases. The stage-managed ceremony, in which the families of the victims of the Newtown massacre were paraded along with former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, was intended to fuel a backlash against the 42 Republicans and four Democratic members of the U.S. Senate who voted against the measure. The 46 no votes that prevented the adoption of the amendment were portrayed as the product of cowardice and the malign influence of the National Rifle Association and its allies who had thwarted the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans that polls say support expanded background checks.

The president’s threats—amplified elsewhere in the liberal media—made it clear he thinks the American people would soon rise up and smite the recalcitrant opponents of gun control. The decision of gun rights advocates not to embrace an inoffensive measure like Manchin-Toomey, which would not infringe on the Second Amendment, will help keep this issue alive for the 2014 midterms. We can expect the president to continue trotting out the Newtown families at every opportunity. But now that the Senate has effectively ended any chance of new gun legislation, the question is whether this vote will actually give the president and his party the sort of leverage in the 2014 midterms that could not only change the result on guns but also give Democrats the control of Congress that Obama wants to complete his legacy. Though liberals, anticipating a campaign fueled by rage and grief and funded by billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, think it will and conservatives are assuming it will flop, the answer is a bit more complicated than either side assumes.

Read More

At the White House yesterday afternoon, President Obama did not seek to disguise his anger about the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey amendment on background checks for gun purchases. The stage-managed ceremony, in which the families of the victims of the Newtown massacre were paraded along with former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, was intended to fuel a backlash against the 42 Republicans and four Democratic members of the U.S. Senate who voted against the measure. The 46 no votes that prevented the adoption of the amendment were portrayed as the product of cowardice and the malign influence of the National Rifle Association and its allies who had thwarted the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans that polls say support expanded background checks.

The president’s threats—amplified elsewhere in the liberal media—made it clear he thinks the American people would soon rise up and smite the recalcitrant opponents of gun control. The decision of gun rights advocates not to embrace an inoffensive measure like Manchin-Toomey, which would not infringe on the Second Amendment, will help keep this issue alive for the 2014 midterms. We can expect the president to continue trotting out the Newtown families at every opportunity. But now that the Senate has effectively ended any chance of new gun legislation, the question is whether this vote will actually give the president and his party the sort of leverage in the 2014 midterms that could not only change the result on guns but also give Democrats the control of Congress that Obama wants to complete his legacy. Though liberals, anticipating a campaign fueled by rage and grief and funded by billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, think it will and conservatives are assuming it will flop, the answer is a bit more complicated than either side assumes.

For all the talk being heard today about the anger of the American people about their will being thwarted by the nefarious maneuverings of the NRA, the news landscape the day after the defeat of the gun bill illustrates the problem with assuming that one issue can dominate the public consciousness. As much as the president and his media cheerleaders would like to assume that a Newtown victims-fueled fury can transform American politics, less than 24 hours later the gun issue is competing with other stories that are more compelling, such as the Boston terror attack and the massive deaths and damage that resulted from the fertilizer factory explosion in Texas. As much as many Americans are still deeply moved by Newtown and most think Manchin-Toomey made sense, the lines on gun issues are still largely drawn on regional and ideological lines that have not budged much in the past few months.

As Josh Kraushaar points out in the National Journal today, the electoral math in 2014 favors gun rights advocates, not President Obama and his allies. With so many Senate Democrats up for re-election in red states where guns remain popular, it’s hard to see how liberals will be able to harness the emotions of Newtown to elect people who will change the numbers on such issues. The fact that the amendment to the bill proposed by Texas Senator John Cornyn about states respecting each other’s concealed carry permits won more bipartisan support than Manchin-Toomey–although it, too, failed–is telling.

Red state Democrats, including the four who opposed Manchin-Toomey, may face primary challenges from the left. But the prospects of those senators being replaced by pro-gun control liberals are virtually non-existent, no matter how much money Bloomberg pours into those races. Nor is it likely that Republicans in the south or west are spending too much time worrying about Democrats beating them by waving the bloody shirt of Newtown.

But Republicans should not be too sanguine about the political landscape next year. They have been underestimating Obama’s appeal for years and next year may be no exception. What the president may be able to do next year in a campaign that will in part be aided by gun-violence victims’ families is to help increase turnout among the Democratic base that might change races in some states and hurt the GOP’s chances of winning back the Senate while holding onto the House.

The right is right to point out that many of the arguments being used by the president on guns are specious. The idea that al-Qaeda terrorists will be enabled to buy guns without background checks is pure baloney. And the premise that the Newtown victim families have the standing to impose their views on guns on the country even if the measures they support would not have made a difference in stopping the murders at the Sandy Hook Elementary School is also unfair.

However, conservatives would do well to get used to seeing those families, as they will be a constant presence on the campaign trail in the next two years. Any assumption that they will not help the president make political hay with his orchestrated rage may prove premature.

Read Less

Obama, NRA Big Winners in Gun Vote

The Senate voted this afternoon on the Manchin-Toomey bipartisan compromise amendment on background checks for weapon purchases, and the result was no surprise. The measure got 54 votes, six short of the total needed for an amendment to be tacked onto the existing Democratic bill. While the Senate will go on talking about the issue, this vote closes the chapter on the four-month-long push for gun control that was launched by President Obama after the Newtown massacre. The concept pushed by moderate West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and conservative Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey was the only possible addition to the roster of existing gun laws that had a prayer of becoming law. But if even this idea couldn’t be passed in the Democrat-run Senate, it’s self-evident that there is no possible proposal that could be agreed upon by both houses of Congress.

That means the National Rifle Association, which vowed to fight to the last against even a moderate expansion of background checks, let alone a ban on assault weapons or large ammunition clips that Democrats want, will have a valid claim to be the big winner of this legislative battle. But they need to make room in the winner’s circle for their arch foe, President Obama. By convincing all but four of the Senate Republican caucus to oppose Manchin-Toomey, the NRA spiked an inoffensive measure that could have given the GOP cover against charges that it obstructed any movement on guns after Newtown. That’s a gift that President Obama, who is hoping to grab back control of Congress next year, will gratefully accept.

Read More

The Senate voted this afternoon on the Manchin-Toomey bipartisan compromise amendment on background checks for weapon purchases, and the result was no surprise. The measure got 54 votes, six short of the total needed for an amendment to be tacked onto the existing Democratic bill. While the Senate will go on talking about the issue, this vote closes the chapter on the four-month-long push for gun control that was launched by President Obama after the Newtown massacre. The concept pushed by moderate West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and conservative Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey was the only possible addition to the roster of existing gun laws that had a prayer of becoming law. But if even this idea couldn’t be passed in the Democrat-run Senate, it’s self-evident that there is no possible proposal that could be agreed upon by both houses of Congress.

That means the National Rifle Association, which vowed to fight to the last against even a moderate expansion of background checks, let alone a ban on assault weapons or large ammunition clips that Democrats want, will have a valid claim to be the big winner of this legislative battle. But they need to make room in the winner’s circle for their arch foe, President Obama. By convincing all but four of the Senate Republican caucus to oppose Manchin-Toomey, the NRA spiked an inoffensive measure that could have given the GOP cover against charges that it obstructed any movement on guns after Newtown. That’s a gift that President Obama, who is hoping to grab back control of Congress next year, will gratefully accept.

It is true that, as I wrote yesterday, liberals like Obama deserve some of the credit for helping convince conservatives to stay away from Manchin-Toomey. By making it clear that they would never stop pushing for weapons bans and other efforts that can be construed as an attack on the Second Amendment, Democrats provided useful ammunition to an NRA campaign that treated any measure, no matter how reasonable, as the thin edge of the wedge toward infringement of gun rights. It was this belief that lent weight to the efforts of the lobby and its allies to convince Republicans that the benefits of backing Manchin-Toomey wouldn’t be worth the electoral risk it represented, especially in pro-gun red states.

But the Republican decision not to embrace Manchin-Toomey is a strategic mistake that won’t help them next year.

While the NRA is right to assert that Manchin-Toomey wouldn’t have ended the push for gun control, it would have effectively shelved the issue until a new Congress takes office in January 2015. And it would have enabled Republicans to say they had protected Second Amendment rights while also giving the lie to any Democratic assertion that they had obstructed a post-Newtown consensus about doing something about guns.

Will this make a crucial difference in November 2014? We can’t know yet, and it should be admitted that the NRA and its backers have reason to claim that no Republican will be defeated in an otherwise red state because they opposed an assault weapons ban or even by closing the gun show loophole on background checks that Manchin-Toomey would have achieved. The midterm electorate may resemble that of 2010 more than 2012, and the large number of vulnerable or open Democratic Senate seats also tilts the math in the GOP’s favor.

But Republicans should understand that by stonewalling a background checks law, they have handed the Democrats a cudgel with which they will be beaten relentlessly for the next year and a half. The GOP can complain all it wants about media bias, the exploitation of the Newtown victims by the president and the fact that none of the proposed new gun laws would have prevented another Newtown. The use of the victims of the Newtown victim families — as President Obama did again this afternoon after the vote — may seem exploitive to Republicans but it is also the sort of thing that cannot be directly answered by gun control opponents.

Instead of taking the air out of the Democratic balloon, they’ve re-inflated it. Their assumption that there will be no political cost to this decision may be a mistake. If 2014 turns out to be as dismal as 2012, Republicans may look back on this day and realize that they’ve made an unforced error.

Read Less

If Gun Bill Fails, Blame Liberals as Well as the NRA

It may be a little early to write it off completely, but today’s Politico feature on the gun legislation being considered by the Senate leaves readers with the distinct impression that the effort is doomed. With so many Republicans, including a majority of those who voted for cloture that allowed the bill to be considered, lining up to oppose the bipartisan compromise on background checks proposed by Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey, its chances of passage are not good. Moreover, even if it somehow squeaks by in the Senate, it now appears that there is no sign that the GOP majority in the House of Representatives is inclined to approve anything, even a bill as moderate as Manchin-Toomey, that falls under the rubric of gun control.

If so, it won’t be long before the postmortems on the push for gun legislation begin in full force and, as the Politico piece indicated, it will be the National Rifle Association and its allies that will be considered the main culprits. The NRA will be happy to take full credit from the mainstream media for Manchin-Toomey’s failure since it reinforces their image as an all-powerful lobby that can intimidate both conservative Republicans and moderate red-state Democrats to back off even the most reasonable proposals. But the reason for their success in rallying opposition to the bill since the Newtown massacre gave a new impetus to this cause may not stem entirely from the group’s ability to convince legislators that opposing their dictates is a ticket to political oblivion. Liberals may believe they can make political hay from what they will brand as Republican obstructionism in next year’s midterm elections. But they should realize that it is their decision to overreach in their calls for weapon bans that has given the NRA all the ammunition it needed to convince many conservatives that the goal of this campaign truly is to undermine the Second Amendment rights that the president claims to have designs on.

Read More

It may be a little early to write it off completely, but today’s Politico feature on the gun legislation being considered by the Senate leaves readers with the distinct impression that the effort is doomed. With so many Republicans, including a majority of those who voted for cloture that allowed the bill to be considered, lining up to oppose the bipartisan compromise on background checks proposed by Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey, its chances of passage are not good. Moreover, even if it somehow squeaks by in the Senate, it now appears that there is no sign that the GOP majority in the House of Representatives is inclined to approve anything, even a bill as moderate as Manchin-Toomey, that falls under the rubric of gun control.

If so, it won’t be long before the postmortems on the push for gun legislation begin in full force and, as the Politico piece indicated, it will be the National Rifle Association and its allies that will be considered the main culprits. The NRA will be happy to take full credit from the mainstream media for Manchin-Toomey’s failure since it reinforces their image as an all-powerful lobby that can intimidate both conservative Republicans and moderate red-state Democrats to back off even the most reasonable proposals. But the reason for their success in rallying opposition to the bill since the Newtown massacre gave a new impetus to this cause may not stem entirely from the group’s ability to convince legislators that opposing their dictates is a ticket to political oblivion. Liberals may believe they can make political hay from what they will brand as Republican obstructionism in next year’s midterm elections. But they should realize that it is their decision to overreach in their calls for weapon bans that has given the NRA all the ammunition it needed to convince many conservatives that the goal of this campaign truly is to undermine the Second Amendment rights that the president claims to have designs on.

As I’ve noted before, the NRA’s dogged opposition to all gun legislation no matter how reasonable, including bills like Manchin-Toomey that in no way restrict gun rights, stems from a belief that any gun bill could serve as the thin edge of the wedge in a liberal campaign to ban guns and ultimately gut the Second Amendment. In this respect they operate in the same manner as NARAL and other pro-abortion groups that will similarly oppose even the most reasonable restrictions on that procedure, even those that smack of infanticide. But the only reason that either the NRA and NARAL are able to get away with this behavior is because they have a better grip on their opponents’ intentions than many in the media give them credit for.

Though President Obama and Vice President Biden swear up and down that they have no intent to interfere with the Second Amendment, the hostility of liberals to America’s gun culture is palpable. Indeed, the focus on “assault weapons”—which gun enthusiasts rightly understand to be a term that has more to do with a weapon’s look than its capabilities—and the lack of any real connection between such proposals with Newtown is a sign that the intent goes farther than stopping criminals or the mentally ill from buying weapons.

The sniping at Toomey-Manchin strikes me as a strategic mistake on the part of gun rights supporters since it would do nothing to impede possession of weapons, nor would it create the national database registry that some fear would be used to take away legal firearms from citizens. Its passage would also take all the air out of the issue for Democrats and effectively prevent them from spending the next year and half claiming the GOP stymied action on the matter.

But try telling most NRA members that senators like Connecticut’s Chris Murphy or Cailfornia’s Dianne Feinstein, or the cheerleaders in the liberal mainstream media, would stop at background checks and they’ll tell you to try and sell them a bridge in Brooklyn.

It may be that had the president not tried to go big with a gun bill, the NRA would have opposed him anyway and might have prevailed. But had the president concentrated his efforts on passing the one element of his package that really has universal support, the ability of the gun lobby to energize its supporters and scare moderate Democrats would have been considerably lessened. It can be argued that a loss on guns is actually preferable to Obama since it will allow him to go on waving the bloody shirt of Newtown until 2015 and beyond. But if his goal was actually to get things done, he and his supporters have undermined their own cause.

The NRA will treat the failure of Manchin-Toomey as yet another triumph in their long history of legislative success. But if they are honest, they should share the credit with the president and the liberals that have done so much to demonize them.

Read Less