Commentary Magazine


Topic: National Rifle Association

Latest Gun-Control Push Explains Why It Will Fail

The tragedy in Isla Vista, California last week is leading to new calls for more gun-control legislation. The actions of Elliot Rodger, the disturbed person who murdered six people (three by stabbing and three by shooting) at the University of California at Santa Barbara is seen by some as yet another reason for Congress to act to make it more difficult to purchase weapons or to ban them. The anguished demand of Richard Martinez, a parent of one of the victims, “When will this insanity stop?” rapidly went viral and his accusation that his son’s death was the fault of “craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA” is being taken up by those who are still wondering why the national outrage at the shooting of 20 children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut didn’t result in the enactment of more gun laws.

But this time even liberals are conceding that Martinez’s demands won’t be heeded. As Chris Cilizza writes today in the Washington Post, resistance to more draconian restrictions has stiffened since Newtown and more states have loosened gun laws than tightened them. Though some on the left, like the Los Angeles Times’s Steve Lopez, are doubling down on the anger about guns that such incidents provoke, the main reaction from liberals is to lament the fact that the emotional surge after a shooting has never provided the tipping point on the issue they desire. Though polls have always shown public sympathy for proposals for more background checks, as Cillizza notes, support for more gun control in general has actually dwindled in the last two decades, including in the last year since Newtown.

Why? There are two reasons. One has to do with the fact that the public rightly believes that such laws won’t prevent mass killings by madmen. The other has to do with a belief that such calls are not about “common sense gun control” but abrogation of constitutional gun rights. Indeed, the anger of gun-control advocates after these tragedies has the perverse effect of heightening suspicions about their true intent.

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The tragedy in Isla Vista, California last week is leading to new calls for more gun-control legislation. The actions of Elliot Rodger, the disturbed person who murdered six people (three by stabbing and three by shooting) at the University of California at Santa Barbara is seen by some as yet another reason for Congress to act to make it more difficult to purchase weapons or to ban them. The anguished demand of Richard Martinez, a parent of one of the victims, “When will this insanity stop?” rapidly went viral and his accusation that his son’s death was the fault of “craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA” is being taken up by those who are still wondering why the national outrage at the shooting of 20 children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut didn’t result in the enactment of more gun laws.

But this time even liberals are conceding that Martinez’s demands won’t be heeded. As Chris Cilizza writes today in the Washington Post, resistance to more draconian restrictions has stiffened since Newtown and more states have loosened gun laws than tightened them. Though some on the left, like the Los Angeles Times’s Steve Lopez, are doubling down on the anger about guns that such incidents provoke, the main reaction from liberals is to lament the fact that the emotional surge after a shooting has never provided the tipping point on the issue they desire. Though polls have always shown public sympathy for proposals for more background checks, as Cillizza notes, support for more gun control in general has actually dwindled in the last two decades, including in the last year since Newtown.

Why? There are two reasons. One has to do with the fact that the public rightly believes that such laws won’t prevent mass killings by madmen. The other has to do with a belief that such calls are not about “common sense gun control” but abrogation of constitutional gun rights. Indeed, the anger of gun-control advocates after these tragedies has the perverse effect of heightening suspicions about their true intent.

The lack of any real connection between most gun-control proposals, including the most anodyne involving background checks such as last year’s bill sponsored by Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey, and the actual chain of events leading to crimes such as the ones at Newtown or Isla Vista undermines the argument that these laws would save lives. Most of those who commit gun violence would never fall under the category of those whom the checks would prevent from purchasing a gun. Moreover, those who would be stopped can almost certainly obtain them by extralegal means.

Even more frustrating is the possibility that even an emphasis on mental health—which is the underlying cause of almost all mass shootings—wouldn’t do much to prevent these incidents from occurring. As clinical psychiatrist Richard Friedman explains today in a New York Times op-ed:

As a psychiatrist, I welcome calls from our politicians to improve our mental health care system. But even the best mental health care is unlikely to prevent these tragedies.

If we can’t reliably identify people who are at risk of committing violent acts, then how can we possibly prevent guns from falling into the hands of those who are likely to kill? Mr. Rodger had no problem legally buying guns because he had neither been institutionalized nor involuntarily hospitalized, both of which are generally factors that would have prevented him from purchasing firearms.

Would lowering the threshold for involuntary psychiatric treatment, as some argue, be effective in preventing mass killings or homicide in general? It’s doubtful.

Friedman concludes that the idea that improving our mental health system might prevent such horrors is a myth. While that shouldn’t preclude us from efforts in that direction, the sobering truth is that these shocking yet rare incidents can’t be legislated out of existence. This is a piece of wisdom that increasingly large numbers of Americans seem to have figured out for themselves without benefit of a degree in psychiatry.

Just as important in explaining the failure of more gun control is the fact that most gun owners and others who support Second Amendment rights don’t believe the assurances they hear from liberals about not wanting to take away their guns. Indeed, the more they hear from those advocating more restrictions, the less they trust them. In particular, this latest incident in which Rodger shot three of the victims with a handgun makes the case for such laws even more difficult. Gun-control advocates seized on the assault weapon used in Newtown as an example of the sort of gun that ought not be legal. Though the distinction between that sort of rifle and others was largely cosmetic, it made sense to a lot of Americans. But there is a broad judicial consensus that the right to possess a handgun is not in question. If, in response to Martinez’s heartfelt pleas, liberals think they can leverage the Santa Barbara incident into another legislative push, the effort may backfire.

The nation should grieve with Mr. Martinez and the other families who have suffered as a result of Isla Vista murders. But blaming the crime on politicians and the NRA tells us more about the need to vent about a senseless atrocity than it does about reasonable policy options. If calls for more gun control have been rejected, it is not because our politicians are too corrupt or the NRA too powerful. It is because most Americans rightly believe more such laws would do no good and possibly abridge their constitutional rights.

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When the Right Turns on America

Speaking to the National Rifle Association’s recent annual conference, NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre, in describing America, said, “Almost everywhere you look, something has gone wrong. You feel it in your heart, you know it in your gut. Something has gone wrong. The core values we believe in, the things we care about most, are changing. Eroding. Our right to speak. Our right to gather. Our right to privacy. The freedom to work, and practice our religion, and raise and protect our families the way we see fit.”

He went on to say this:

There are terrorists and home invaders and drug cartels and carjackers and knockout gamers and rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers, road-rage killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids, or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse the society that sustains us all. I ask you. Do you trust this government to protect you? We are on our own.

Mr. LaPierre is not the only one who describes America in dystopian terms these days. Earlier this year Dr. Ben Carson, a Tea Party favorite who is considering a run for the presidency in 2016, said America is “very much like Nazi Germany.” Michele Bachmann, a 2012 GOP presidential candidate, has said the Affordable Care Act is evidence of a “police state.” This kind of language–America is bordering on or has basically become a tyranny–is common currency within some quarters of conservatism.

Now it is one thing to believe, as I do, that in some important respects America is in decline and that President Obama is in part responsible for that decline. I agree, too, that there are some alarming problems and trends facing the United States just now, which many conservatives are attempting to address in a responsible fashion.  

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Speaking to the National Rifle Association’s recent annual conference, NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre, in describing America, said, “Almost everywhere you look, something has gone wrong. You feel it in your heart, you know it in your gut. Something has gone wrong. The core values we believe in, the things we care about most, are changing. Eroding. Our right to speak. Our right to gather. Our right to privacy. The freedom to work, and practice our religion, and raise and protect our families the way we see fit.”

He went on to say this:

There are terrorists and home invaders and drug cartels and carjackers and knockout gamers and rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers, road-rage killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids, or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse the society that sustains us all. I ask you. Do you trust this government to protect you? We are on our own.

Mr. LaPierre is not the only one who describes America in dystopian terms these days. Earlier this year Dr. Ben Carson, a Tea Party favorite who is considering a run for the presidency in 2016, said America is “very much like Nazi Germany.” Michele Bachmann, a 2012 GOP presidential candidate, has said the Affordable Care Act is evidence of a “police state.” This kind of language–America is bordering on or has basically become a tyranny–is common currency within some quarters of conservatism.

Now it is one thing to believe, as I do, that in some important respects America is in decline and that President Obama is in part responsible for that decline. I agree, too, that there are some alarming problems and trends facing the United States just now, which many conservatives are attempting to address in a responsible fashion.  

But it is quite another thing to describe America as the New Left did in the late 1960s, when America itself was spelled with a “k” (“Amerika”) in an effort to identify it with Nazi Germany. Among the young and left-wing academics there was talk about the need for revolution. The United States was viewed as fundamentally corrupt. Once upon a time conservatives fought against this. Today, however, some on the right are turning on America. They employ language you would associate with Noam Chomsky.

Now to be sure, the reasons the left and right are unhappy with America are quite different. But the indictment is still searing and often reckless. It describes an unrecognizable country. Whatever problems America has, we are light years away from Nazi Germany; and to argue that the United States is on the edge of tyranny can only come from those who don’t understand what life in a tyranny is really and truly and hellishly like.

This kind of rhetoric, which can only incite and never persuade, is alienating to everyone who is not part of the Apocalypse Now crowd. It is also, in deep ways, profoundly unconservative, in good part because it is overwrought and detached from reality. It is also evidence of a backward-looking conservatism that sees how America has changed and laments it rather than a forward-looking conservatism that sees the great promise and opportunities that still exist in America and seeks to take advantage of them.

“Am I embarrassed to speak for a less than perfect democracy?” the late, great United States Senator (and United Nations Ambassador) Daniel Patrick Moynihan once asked. “Not one bit. Find me a better one. Do I suppose there are societies which are free of sin? No, I don’t. Do I think ours is, on balance, incomparably the most hopeful set of human relations the world has? Yes, I do.”

That is still the case, even today, even in Barack Obama’s America. Conservatives should continue to oppose his agenda with all their might. But they will do serious and lasting damage to themselves and their cause if in the process they are seen as turning on their country. And I worry that in some quarters, from some voices, that is precisely what is happening.

Amor Patriae is still a virtue in America, and conservatives should both claim it and cherish the deeper meaning of it.

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Bloomberg’s Plan Is Good News for NRA

Michael Bloomberg is no political novice. Though the verdict on his 12 years as New York City’s mayor is, at best, mixed, there is no doubt that his political skills are as keen as his instinct for making money. As Fred Siegel and Sol Stern pointed out in a COMMENTARY article explaining why Bloomberg finally wore out his welcome at City Hall, the mayor deployed his immense fortune to not only buy votes with record campaign expenditures but also to buy political peace by bribing protest groups that might have otherwise been in the streets making his life miserable. That tactic, along with weak Democratic opponents, kept him in power even if it’s a model that no future mayor who is not also a billionaire will be able to use. But it also seems to have reinforced Bloomberg’s blind faith in the ability of money to transform a political debate. It is in this context that we should view his announcement that he will spend $50 million to build a nationwide network of groups calling for gun control.

The purpose of the effort is to copy the success of Bloomberg’s nemesis: the National Rifle Association, a group that has successfully fought off measures seeking to limit or make owning a gun more difficult. What Bloomberg wants is to inspire fear in politicians, even among liberal Democrats who otherwise agree with most of his positions on the issues, but who may stray from the party line about guns. As the New York Times reports, the former mayor thinks his money will help mobilize women to prioritize the gun issue in the same way Mothers Against Drunk Driving made it possible to pass tough laws against drunk drivers. The $50 million expenditure will not only dwarf the estimated $20 million spent by the NRA but will seek to target politicians in red and swing states who have crossed party lines to oppose both sweeping gun-control laws or more limited background check legislation.

But the NRA isn’t shaking in its boots. Gun-rights activists are used to being outspent in key legislative races, as they were last fall when Colorado legislators who voted for new gun laws were successfully recalled. But Bloomberg’s mistake isn’t only in overestimating the impact that money can have on this debate. It’s that he doesn’t understand that the NRA’s success hasn’t been so much a function of fear as it is in the passion of its supporters and the broad support their position commands among the public.

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Michael Bloomberg is no political novice. Though the verdict on his 12 years as New York City’s mayor is, at best, mixed, there is no doubt that his political skills are as keen as his instinct for making money. As Fred Siegel and Sol Stern pointed out in a COMMENTARY article explaining why Bloomberg finally wore out his welcome at City Hall, the mayor deployed his immense fortune to not only buy votes with record campaign expenditures but also to buy political peace by bribing protest groups that might have otherwise been in the streets making his life miserable. That tactic, along with weak Democratic opponents, kept him in power even if it’s a model that no future mayor who is not also a billionaire will be able to use. But it also seems to have reinforced Bloomberg’s blind faith in the ability of money to transform a political debate. It is in this context that we should view his announcement that he will spend $50 million to build a nationwide network of groups calling for gun control.

The purpose of the effort is to copy the success of Bloomberg’s nemesis: the National Rifle Association, a group that has successfully fought off measures seeking to limit or make owning a gun more difficult. What Bloomberg wants is to inspire fear in politicians, even among liberal Democrats who otherwise agree with most of his positions on the issues, but who may stray from the party line about guns. As the New York Times reports, the former mayor thinks his money will help mobilize women to prioritize the gun issue in the same way Mothers Against Drunk Driving made it possible to pass tough laws against drunk drivers. The $50 million expenditure will not only dwarf the estimated $20 million spent by the NRA but will seek to target politicians in red and swing states who have crossed party lines to oppose both sweeping gun-control laws or more limited background check legislation.

But the NRA isn’t shaking in its boots. Gun-rights activists are used to being outspent in key legislative races, as they were last fall when Colorado legislators who voted for new gun laws were successfully recalled. But Bloomberg’s mistake isn’t only in overestimating the impact that money can have on this debate. It’s that he doesn’t understand that the NRA’s success hasn’t been so much a function of fear as it is in the passion of its supporters and the broad support their position commands among the public.

The first and perhaps greatest problem with Bloomberg’s plan is that most Americans don’t want the former mayor of New York telling them what to do or which of their constitutional rights need to be impinged upon. Though he talks about wanting to organize the “grass roots,” what he is discussing is a classic top-down operation in which a coastal elite seeks to manipulate voters in flyover country. Bloomberg’s cash was enough to co-opt various minority power brokers in New York as well as to overwhelm unimpressive ballot opponents. But it can’t convince people who support gun rights to shut up. Nor can it manufacture an equally passionate body of gun opponents where none exists.

It is true that polls often show support for some of the measures the NRA opposes. Bloomberg and other liberals believe this is proof that NRA victories in Congress are the result of a shell game in which a small minority manipulates politicians to thwart the will of the majority. But the reason why the NRA has clout on Capitol Hill is not so much the result of the intimidation that Bloomberg says he wishes to emulate as it is in the broad popularity of gun rights. As the aftermath of the December 2012 Newtown massacre showed, the national media’s efforts to demonize the NRA merely increased the number of its contributors and convinced members of the House and Senate that the NRA was actually closer to the national mood than those seeking to come up with new gun laws.

Moreover, Bloomberg’s signal that his efforts will be at the margins of the gun issue rather than on new restrictions such as revived attempt to ban assault weapons won’t fool anybody. One of the chief reasons the NRA has succeeded is because gun-rights supporters rightly believe that the ultimate goal of all gun control is to ban guns, not to merely increase the number of background checks. The fact that New York City’s laws make it onerous if not impossible for an individual to legally possess a gun only emphasizes this point.

The NRA isn’t politically bullet proof and, as it showed in its initial ham-handed responses to Newtown, it can sometimes do more damage to itself than its foes can. But as long as it is matched up against the likes of Bloomberg, it has nothing to fear.

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Another NY Times Misfire on Gun Rights

In the lead-up to the high-stakes 2010 Senate election between Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Republican challenger Sharron Angle, a curious drama unfolded within the National Rifle Association. The NRA was, reportedly, considering endorsing Reid, incurring pushback from its conservative-leaning membership. Why would the NRA endorse a Democrat, even one more friendly to gun rights than most Democrats? Because, the logic went, a Reid loss coupled with the Democrats holding the Senate could elevate Chuck Schumer to lead the Senate.

Schumer is not just anti-gun, but the worst kind of anti-gun extremist: an East Coast liberal elitist who doesn’t know anything about guns or gun culture but hates them anyway. This propensity by Schumer to allow ignorance and prejudice to set his legislative agenda made the NRA understandably nervous. The NRA eventually chose to stay neutral in the race. This episode is worth keeping in mind when reading the New York Times Magazine’s lengthy article recreating the failure of the Manchin-Toomey gun-control legislation earlier this year. The bill was aimed at beefing up background checks amid the “do-something” rush of activity following the Newtown massacre.

The effort was almost torpedoed by Schumer immediately; the tragic news of the shooting gave Schumer the opportunity he craved to punish law-abiding gun owners–people who, according to Schumer, only existed in theory anyway. As the Times reports:

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In the lead-up to the high-stakes 2010 Senate election between Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Republican challenger Sharron Angle, a curious drama unfolded within the National Rifle Association. The NRA was, reportedly, considering endorsing Reid, incurring pushback from its conservative-leaning membership. Why would the NRA endorse a Democrat, even one more friendly to gun rights than most Democrats? Because, the logic went, a Reid loss coupled with the Democrats holding the Senate could elevate Chuck Schumer to lead the Senate.

Schumer is not just anti-gun, but the worst kind of anti-gun extremist: an East Coast liberal elitist who doesn’t know anything about guns or gun culture but hates them anyway. This propensity by Schumer to allow ignorance and prejudice to set his legislative agenda made the NRA understandably nervous. The NRA eventually chose to stay neutral in the race. This episode is worth keeping in mind when reading the New York Times Magazine’s lengthy article recreating the failure of the Manchin-Toomey gun-control legislation earlier this year. The bill was aimed at beefing up background checks amid the “do-something” rush of activity following the Newtown massacre.

The effort was almost torpedoed by Schumer immediately; the tragic news of the shooting gave Schumer the opportunity he craved to punish law-abiding gun owners–people who, according to Schumer, only existed in theory anyway. As the Times reports:

Joe Manchin shared the concern that the Democrats who were leading the charge on gun legislation didn’t understand how deeply people care about guns and needed to if they were ever to get anything passed. By January the universal background-checks legislation was being spearheaded in the Senate by Charles Schumer, a liberal from New York City. “Joe, I didn’t know anybody who owned a gun when I grew up,” Schumer said to Manchin, who replied, “Chuck, I didn’t know anybody who didn’t own a gun.” Schumer’s bill contained no provisions that might attract the support of gun owners, a fatal omission in Manchin’s view. “The bill Chuck Schumer dropped was one that I didn’t think anyone from a gun state would or should support,” Manchin told me. “So I reached out to the N.R.A. and said, ‘Let’s have an alternative.’ ”

That is, the Democratic effort on a major issue was being led by a man who was proud of his total lack of knowledge about the issue. It’s unclear whether Schumer realized his bill would never pass and therefore just wanted an opportunity to grandstand, or just wasn’t capable of leading a serious legislative effort. Manchin ended up nearly saving the effort by getting actual gun owners and experts involved, and crafting a quite reasonable bill that combined modest increases in restrictions in areas that arguably needed them with additional protections for gun rights.

In the end, the bill still didn’t quite make it, but it’s instructive to look at why that happened. Robert Draper, the author of the Times piece, says anti-gun activists must learn to better “break down the barriers of fear and mistrust from which the N.R.A. derives much of its power.” He then says this:

Yet even as the votes in the chambers still favor the N.R.A., gun-control advocates have some cause for optimism. Time does not seem to be on the N.R.A.’s side. According to data compiled by the nonpartisan National Opinion Research Center, between 1977 and 2012 the percentage of American households possessing one or more guns declined by 36 percent. That decline should not be surprising. Tom W. Smith, director of the research center, says: “There are two main reasons, if you ask people, why they have firearms: hunting and personal protection. Now, from external sources like the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, we know the proportion of adults who hunt has declined over the decades. And since the ‘90s, the crime rate has fallen. So the two main reasons people might want to have a gun have both decreased.”

On the issue of “fear and mistrust,” Draper throughout the article seems to ignore his own reporting. He notes, for example, that Anita Dunn spoke to a gathering of anti-gun Democrats and kept using “the R-word,” registration. This makes gun owners fear–wrongly according to Democrats–that the goal is to keep a registry of firearms owners to better confiscate them when the time comes. But as J.D. Tuccille recently pointed out at Reason, gun owners have been receiving confiscation notices from state government officials even as such moves are dismissed by lawmakers. “The problem for gun control advocates,” Tuccille writes, “is that they keep promising that no way will registration lead to confiscation of firearms, even as it does just that.”

And on Draper’s claim that time isn’t on the NRA’s side, it’s worth looking at the polling. It’s true that gun ownership rates have dropped, but that in no way means support for gun owners will drop. Here is Gallup’s detailed, long-term trend polling on gun rights, the most recent of which was taken in early October. It finds that household gun possession is at its lowest point since 1999. And yet, support for making gun-sale laws “more strict” is nearly twenty points lower than it was twenty years ago, and nearly thirty points lower than in 1990.

Support for a handgun ban has been dropping for decades, from 60 percent in 1959 to 25 percent today. The Gallup polling shows broad support for the expansion of background checks in the Manchin-Toomey legislation–regulation initially supported by the NRA as well. But when asked for some reasons respondents didn’t want the legislation to pass, 40 percent named Second Amendment rights.

The fact is, Americans take their constitutional rights quite seriously, even when they don’t directly impact them. Schumer and Co. seem to think rights of which they don’t avail themselves are irrelevant. It is to the American public’s great credit that they disagree.

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The Myth of Big Money and Gun Control

One of the chief talking points of liberals who have denounced National Rifle Association’s stand against President Obama’s efforts to pass more gun control laws has been to claim that the opposition has been mainly a function of the malign influence of money on politics. Their argument is to assert that the NRA’s influence is more a function of the large contributions gun manufacturers lavish on the group rather than the donations and the political fervor of its members. Following this playbook, the liberal mainstream media has consistently portrayed the efforts of those seeking to increase the regulation of gun ownership as the poor David fighting the wealthy NRA Goliath. Much of this narrative was undermined by the intervention in the debate by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has invested many millions in the Mayors Against Illegal Guns group whose purpose it is to combat the NRA in local political races. But a story in yesterday’s New York Times illustrates how much of a myth is the notion that gun rights advocates are a function of big business while their opponents are the expression of a grass roots movement.

The piece depicts the struggle to recall two Democratic members of the Colorado legislature that voted for what the paper called “some of the strictest gun control measures in the country” passed last year. State Senators John Morse and Angela Giron are portrayed as writing a new chapter in the annals of courage for standing up to the NRA as anger over their decision has fueled a push to evict them from office that both sides in this political battle see as sending a message to politicians who might vote for gun legislation. But the narrative of victimization for the pair is undermined by two key paragraphs that are buried at the bottom of the story:

Ms. Giron has support from powerful Democrats — including Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who has campaigned for her — and there is a political action committee supporting her. The PAC has hired a staff member from President Obama’s re-election campaign, Chris Shallow, who handled field operations in North Carolina for the Obama campaign.

Ms. Giron and Mr. Morse are raising and spending far more than their opponents. Ms. Giron’s supporters have raised more than $87,000 and Mr. Morse’s more than $153,000, according to campaign disclosures. Each campaign has received thousands from progressive groups in Colorado and $35,000 apiece from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a Washington group that supports liberal and environmental causes, and $3,500 each from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

In other words, big moneyed interests are fighting the battle over guns–but the side with deep pockets isn’t the one attempting to uphold the Second Amendment.

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One of the chief talking points of liberals who have denounced National Rifle Association’s stand against President Obama’s efforts to pass more gun control laws has been to claim that the opposition has been mainly a function of the malign influence of money on politics. Their argument is to assert that the NRA’s influence is more a function of the large contributions gun manufacturers lavish on the group rather than the donations and the political fervor of its members. Following this playbook, the liberal mainstream media has consistently portrayed the efforts of those seeking to increase the regulation of gun ownership as the poor David fighting the wealthy NRA Goliath. Much of this narrative was undermined by the intervention in the debate by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has invested many millions in the Mayors Against Illegal Guns group whose purpose it is to combat the NRA in local political races. But a story in yesterday’s New York Times illustrates how much of a myth is the notion that gun rights advocates are a function of big business while their opponents are the expression of a grass roots movement.

The piece depicts the struggle to recall two Democratic members of the Colorado legislature that voted for what the paper called “some of the strictest gun control measures in the country” passed last year. State Senators John Morse and Angela Giron are portrayed as writing a new chapter in the annals of courage for standing up to the NRA as anger over their decision has fueled a push to evict them from office that both sides in this political battle see as sending a message to politicians who might vote for gun legislation. But the narrative of victimization for the pair is undermined by two key paragraphs that are buried at the bottom of the story:

Ms. Giron has support from powerful Democrats — including Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who has campaigned for her — and there is a political action committee supporting her. The PAC has hired a staff member from President Obama’s re-election campaign, Chris Shallow, who handled field operations in North Carolina for the Obama campaign.

Ms. Giron and Mr. Morse are raising and spending far more than their opponents. Ms. Giron’s supporters have raised more than $87,000 and Mr. Morse’s more than $153,000, according to campaign disclosures. Each campaign has received thousands from progressive groups in Colorado and $35,000 apiece from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a Washington group that supports liberal and environmental causes, and $3,500 each from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

In other words, big moneyed interests are fighting the battle over guns–but the side with deep pockets isn’t the one attempting to uphold the Second Amendment.

Far from illustrating how a small group is manipulating the debate about gun legislation in order to frustrate the liberal post-Newtown massacre push, what the Times has done is to remind us that the real struggle here is between big liberal money and small town activists who want to protect their rights:

In Colorado Springs, supporters of the recall set up a political action committee, the Basic Freedom Defense Fund, and started printing bumper stickers, hiring paid signature-gatherers and taking donations. They have collected $19,750 to date, including $250 in ammunition that was donated as door prizes for volunteers. The vast majority of contributions have come from donors around Colorado Springs … In Pueblo, Mr. Head took a hiatus from his job fixing water heaters, borrowed $4,000 from his grandmother and set to gathering the 11,000 signatures needed for a referendum on Ms. Giron.

There is a good argument to be made that the recalls are unnecessary and a waste of time and money no matter which side you are on. Morse is, after all, retiring next year and Giron was scheduled to face the voters again next year anyway. One can also claim that the measures the pair voted for—more background checks and limits on magazine size—are not unreasonable.

But the lesson here is not so much on the merits of the gun debate as it is on the falsity of the idea that the gun rights lobby is the 800-pound gorilla in the struggle. If anything, it is obvious that liberals are as much, if not more, capable of mobilizing financial resources to get their way on gun restrictions and far less dependent on grass roots activism than the pro-gun forces. No matter who wins in the recall votes scheduled for September, this campaign has undermined the liberal talking point about big money and guns. What it has also done is to show that efforts to impress upon legislators that they must listen to voters is one that works as much if not more to buttress the NRA’s position as it does that of Bloomberg.

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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.

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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.

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Did Beck Cross the Line? Yes.

Fans of Glenn Beck are complaining about what I wrote yesterday about his speech at the National Rifle Association convention, where he used a giant image of Michael Bloomberg photoshopped into what appeared to be an image of Hitler with his arm raised in a Nazi salute and wearing an armband. The Beck crowd now tells me that it wasn’t Hitler’s picture into which the New York mayor was transposed but that of Communist leader Vladimir Lenin. They say that means I owe Beck an apology along with the Anti-Defamation League and others who were also outraged by it.

Are they right? Nothing doing.

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Fans of Glenn Beck are complaining about what I wrote yesterday about his speech at the National Rifle Association convention, where he used a giant image of Michael Bloomberg photoshopped into what appeared to be an image of Hitler with his arm raised in a Nazi salute and wearing an armband. The Beck crowd now tells me that it wasn’t Hitler’s picture into which the New York mayor was transposed but that of Communist leader Vladimir Lenin. They say that means I owe Beck an apology along with the Anti-Defamation League and others who were also outraged by it.

Are they right? Nothing doing.

First, even if that is a picture of Lenin, Beck chose one in which the Bolshevik’s arm is raised in a manner that is suspiciously like that of the Nazis. That there is an armband on the figure’s arm is reminiscent of Hitler, who habitually wore the swastika in that fashion, rather than Lenin and the Communists, with whom that image is not generally associated. So even if it is proved that the original image is not that of Hitler, Beck and his staff clearly were trying to fudge the issue in order to make it seem more like a villain whose picture is far better known in the United States.

The imposition of the slogan “You Will” on the image of Bloomberg was also the sort of phrase that is more associated with the Nazis than Communists. Leni Riefenstahl’s classic Nazi documentary was entitled “Triumph of the Will.” Communist rhetoric, especially that of Lenin, often sounded more utopian than authoritarian even if it covered an equally murderous intent.

Nor did Beck tell his audience that it was Lenin that he wanted them to see and not Hitler when inveighing against Bloomberg. Given the concerted attempt to confuse onlookers in this matter, Beck had no right to cry foul if they drew the conclusion that he was clearly trying to entice them to arrive at.

Second, even if we were to concede that Beck was trying to associate Bloomberg with Lenin, that is not a whole lot better than the Hitler analogy. While the image of Lenin would take the use of the Holocaust out of the equation, it must be pointed out that the man who transformed Russia into the evil empire of the Soviet Union was also a mass murderer. Estimates about the number killed in the Red Terror that followed the Bolshevik coup of 1917 vary, but there is no question hundreds of thousands died. The toll of those who perished in Soviet jails and camps or at the hands of the secret police he unleashed is equally high. If one considers that he set in place the mechanism by which Stalin murdered tens of millions, he must be placed in the pantheon of the 20th century’s worst murderers.

I happen to share Beck’s disdain for Michael Bloomberg’s nanny-state liberalism. A year ago when the mayor first proposed his soda ban, I wrote here to condemn the measure and reminded readers the issue was “freedom, not soft drinks.” But comparing this infringement on personal liberty to mass murder, whether committed by Nazis or Communists, is not a rational or reasonable argument. At best, Beck’s stunt could be called hyperbole. At worst, it is the sort of demonization that undermines public discourse in a democracy.

It is true that many on the left play this same game. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews is just as guilty as Beck. Indeed, in denouncing Beck for what he, too, assumed was an inappropriate Nazi analogy, the left-wing talker called the tactic “Hitlerian.” That was hypocritical as well as over the top.

The bottom line in this discussion remains the same. By using this sort of imagery against Bloomberg, Beck is doing more than making a fool of himself again. He is doing serious damage to the cause of defending the Second Amendment. He deserves no apology. He and the NRA (which sanctioned his stunt) owe one to Bloomberg as well as to conservatives whose cause he has damaged.

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The NRA and the Intensity Gap

Liberal commentators are expressing horror about the celebratory tone of the speeches heard this past weekend at the annual convention of the National Rifle Association. The NRA wasn’t shy about declaring victory in its struggle to thwart the Obama administration’s efforts to pass a raft of new gun laws, even stopping the most moderate Manchin-Toomey expansion of background checks. But what’s really interesting about the commentary about the NRA love-in with opponents of gun laws like Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin isn’t so much the anger about the group’s triumph as it is in the blind confidence on the left that the group’s days of political success are numbered.

Anyone who listened to most of those commenting on the NRA gathering on the news talk shows in recent days knows that among liberals there is a conviction that what happened in the last month, when Democrats joined with the majority of Republicans to stop Manchin-Toomey and every other proposed gun law, including those that would have imposed far greater restrictions on firearm ownership, won’t be repeated in the future. They believe anger from the voters who presumably make up the large majorities that polls say back universal background checks, fueled by emotional appeals from the Newtown victim families and funded by billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, will change the political equation next year.

But while one should never underestimate the power of the sort of “bloody shirt” politics that Newtown has produced as well as the impact of Bloomberg’s cash, the NRA convention should have reminded us that single-issue politics is always a function of the intensity gap that have always decided votes on gun control.

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Liberal commentators are expressing horror about the celebratory tone of the speeches heard this past weekend at the annual convention of the National Rifle Association. The NRA wasn’t shy about declaring victory in its struggle to thwart the Obama administration’s efforts to pass a raft of new gun laws, even stopping the most moderate Manchin-Toomey expansion of background checks. But what’s really interesting about the commentary about the NRA love-in with opponents of gun laws like Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin isn’t so much the anger about the group’s triumph as it is in the blind confidence on the left that the group’s days of political success are numbered.

Anyone who listened to most of those commenting on the NRA gathering on the news talk shows in recent days knows that among liberals there is a conviction that what happened in the last month, when Democrats joined with the majority of Republicans to stop Manchin-Toomey and every other proposed gun law, including those that would have imposed far greater restrictions on firearm ownership, won’t be repeated in the future. They believe anger from the voters who presumably make up the large majorities that polls say back universal background checks, fueled by emotional appeals from the Newtown victim families and funded by billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, will change the political equation next year.

But while one should never underestimate the power of the sort of “bloody shirt” politics that Newtown has produced as well as the impact of Bloomberg’s cash, the NRA convention should have reminded us that single-issue politics is always a function of the intensity gap that have always decided votes on gun control.

Liberal pundits can talk all they want about the polls that show 90 percent of Americans backing background checks, but the vast majority of voters are influenced by a multiplicity of issues in any election. A politician who can be portrayed as outside the mainstream is always going to be in trouble. But the point about hot-button issues like guns is that most of the votes that are cast on it are not in the mushy middle, where most Americans reside, but on the margins, where the fervor is primarily to be found among those who treat anything that can be conceivably interpreted as an infringement on gun rights as what will determine how they cast their ballot.

Thus, it is no surprise to learn that in the months since Newtown, NRA membership has gone through the roof, with their numbers expanding from four to five million strong. The president and other gun-control advocates can pretend that the group is merely the political arm of the firearms industry, but any organization that can count five million dues-paying members must be considered formidable no matter what they were advocating.

The growth of the NRA seems counterintuitive to liberals who believe Newtown and any other instance of gun violence proves that more legislation is needed to curb the availability of weapons. But what they are finding is that the more they scream about the need for gun control, the more people who like guns are flocking to stores to buy them and signing up for the NRA. And unlike the overwhelming majority of those who tell pollsters they like Manchin-Toomey, these NRA members can be counted on to keep the group’s “stand and fight” slogan in mind in the voting booth.

A Bloomberg-funded push against a northeastern Republican like Kelly Ayotte and the continued stalking of her by gun violence victim family members might make a difference in her re-election race in 2016. But the majority of those up in 2014, including red-state Democrats, are probably still more afraid of the NRA than they are of the New York mayor.

Though the NRA has made plenty of mistakes in the past few months, none of them has diminished the intensity of those who see any compromise on the issue as the thin edge of the wedge of the movement toward the banning of legal weapons. For that, they can thank Obama and Bloomberg.

Part of the problem here is that no matter how reasonable background checks might be (and I happen to agree that Manchin-Toomey was reasonable and in no way should be construed as an infringement on the Second Amendment), there was no clear connection between outrage about Newtown and the proposals put forward in Congress. As much as liberals thought that tragedy was a game-changer, it didn’t convince anybody who cared about gun rights to change their minds. Nor did it create a huge, vocal single-issue constituency for gun control that would have the potential to frighten politicians away from the NRA. Indeed, as I wrote last week, the president’s effort to exploit the emotions of the country seems only to have inspired more fervent opposition because they see Manchin-Toomey as a stalking horse for the broader liberal measures that will surely follow if it is passed.

While it is possible they can create an answer to the NRA in the way that abortion-rights defenders have done so in response to the pro-life movement, it’s not clear this will make much of a difference in states where guns are popular. Unless and until Democrats (who were conspicuous by their absence from the roster of NRA speakers) can demonstrate that their anti-gun crusade can produce the same kind of intensity that gun rights advocates can count on, this won’t change. 

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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.

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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.

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Toomey and the Tone Deaf Gun Lobby

Yesterday, Larry Pratt, the head of Gun Owners of America, told CNN that his group would be looking to find a Republican to challenge Senator Pat Toomey in 2016. The group, which is to the right of the National Rifle Association, spoke for some on the right who are angry about Toomey’s decision to join with Democrat Joe Manchin to create a compromise on background checks for gun purchases that would close the gun show loophole while exempting sales or exchanges between family members. The proposed amendment to the legislation that Senate Democrats have presented for debate falls far short of the gun control ideas presented by the administration. But it still goes too far for absolutists who are so afraid of a slippery slope toward abrogation of Second Amendment rights that they are prepared to oppose any bill that so much as mentions guns, even if it doesn’t limit the right to own for those who are neither criminals nor mentally ill.

Toomey is taking plenty of flak for crafting the compromise. The grousing on the far right will only be fed by a Politico story that paints his decision to work with Manchin to moderate the bill up before the Senate as a prudent political decision based on a need to shift a bit to the center for his 2016 re-election race. But any assumption that Toomey’s shift on background checks will endanger his hold on his party’s nomination three years from now is ridiculous. The notion that support for background checks will be enough to fuel a primary challenge to Toomey ignores the fact that it is virtually impossible to get to Toomey’s right on fiscal or social issues as well as his history as the standard-bearer of conservatives against a genuine RINO, the late Arlen Specter.

Rather than an indication that Republicans ought to fear any deviation from the line set by the NRA and its allies, the knee-jerk reaction to Toomey’s move on background checks only reinforces the impression that the gun lobbies really are hopelessly out of touch not only with the general public but with Republicans. As with much of the pro-gun movement’s moves since the Newtown massacre, the attacks on Toomey show a tone deafness that will encourage liberals who think the NRA and company are on the decline.

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Yesterday, Larry Pratt, the head of Gun Owners of America, told CNN that his group would be looking to find a Republican to challenge Senator Pat Toomey in 2016. The group, which is to the right of the National Rifle Association, spoke for some on the right who are angry about Toomey’s decision to join with Democrat Joe Manchin to create a compromise on background checks for gun purchases that would close the gun show loophole while exempting sales or exchanges between family members. The proposed amendment to the legislation that Senate Democrats have presented for debate falls far short of the gun control ideas presented by the administration. But it still goes too far for absolutists who are so afraid of a slippery slope toward abrogation of Second Amendment rights that they are prepared to oppose any bill that so much as mentions guns, even if it doesn’t limit the right to own for those who are neither criminals nor mentally ill.

Toomey is taking plenty of flak for crafting the compromise. The grousing on the far right will only be fed by a Politico story that paints his decision to work with Manchin to moderate the bill up before the Senate as a prudent political decision based on a need to shift a bit to the center for his 2016 re-election race. But any assumption that Toomey’s shift on background checks will endanger his hold on his party’s nomination three years from now is ridiculous. The notion that support for background checks will be enough to fuel a primary challenge to Toomey ignores the fact that it is virtually impossible to get to Toomey’s right on fiscal or social issues as well as his history as the standard-bearer of conservatives against a genuine RINO, the late Arlen Specter.

Rather than an indication that Republicans ought to fear any deviation from the line set by the NRA and its allies, the knee-jerk reaction to Toomey’s move on background checks only reinforces the impression that the gun lobbies really are hopelessly out of touch not only with the general public but with Republicans. As with much of the pro-gun movement’s moves since the Newtown massacre, the attacks on Toomey show a tone deafness that will encourage liberals who think the NRA and company are on the decline.

Opponents of background checks take the position that even bills as anodyne as that proposed by Manchin and Toomey are just the first step toward an eventual push to ban guns. That may be what liberals hope will happen, but the reality of the gun debate is that this compromise is as much as they are getting either now or in the near future.

Rather than being co-opted by a left that is using him as a stalking horse for their desire to gut the Second Amendment, what Toomey has done is to co-opt them. By passing a background check bill, Republicans could defuse an issue that President Obama and the Democrats hope to use against them in 2014 without endangering gun rights.

Moreover, since the only people who will be prevented from obtaining weapons as a result of this law would be criminals and the mentally ill, its hard to argue with Toomey’s assertion that this isn’t really a gun control measure in any meaningful sense of the term.

But by opposing Toomey rather than understanding that this idea is the key to spiking a debate that is trending against them, the NRA and gun rights advocates have become the carbon copy of NARAL and other pro-abortion groups. Just as the NRA will fight even the most reasonable gun proposals, NARAL and their friends are willing to fight to the death to prevent even common sense restrictions on abortion, up to and including infanticide.

I understand that Second Amendment supporters fear that this is the thin edge of the wedge that liberals hope to parlay into future proposals about banning types of weapons or ammunition. But they fail to see that by passing a bill that will not meaningfully restrict gun ownership they can prevent Obama and Biden’s desire for bans from being implemented while also preventing Democrats from claiming they prevented legislation that represents a national consensus on the issue from becoming law.

Toomey won’t have an easy time of it in 2016, when he will be hard-pressed to duplicate his narrow 51-49 percent victory over liberal Democrat Joe Sestak in blue Pennsylvania. But his decision to deviate from the NRA line won’t be an obstacle to his re-nomination or his return to the Senate. More to the point, he is pointing the way for congressional Republicans—many of who don’t have Toomey’s conservative credentials—to find a way out of the trap liberals are setting for them on guns.

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Will Liberals Torpedo the Background Check Compromise?

Has common sense prevailed on gun legislation in Washington? That’s one way to look at the compromise proposal on background checks on gun purchases that is being announced today by West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey. The pair, a moderate conservative Democrat and a hard-line fiscal and social conservative Republican, bridge the gap between the two parties and have probably arrived at the only gun measure that has a prayer of passage. Whatever else it will achieve, the plan will almost certainly end any hope of a filibuster of gun legislation in the Senate that had been threatened by Marco Rubio and a dozen other members of the GOP.

The announcement will leave us with three questions.

The first is whether Manchin and Toomey have come up with an amendment to the gun bill that is reasonable. The second is whether it will pass the House of Representatives. But the third, and more interesting, point is whether this is the end or the beginning of a long campaign of efforts by gun control advocates to restrict Second Amendment rights. It is on the answer to that question that reaction from conservatives will hinge. If, rather than seeing this an effort to conclude a divisive debate with something most people can live with, the House Republican caucus believes the expansion of background checks is the thin edge of the wedge in a long-term liberal plan to ban guns, Manchin and Toomey will have achieved nothing.

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Has common sense prevailed on gun legislation in Washington? That’s one way to look at the compromise proposal on background checks on gun purchases that is being announced today by West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey. The pair, a moderate conservative Democrat and a hard-line fiscal and social conservative Republican, bridge the gap between the two parties and have probably arrived at the only gun measure that has a prayer of passage. Whatever else it will achieve, the plan will almost certainly end any hope of a filibuster of gun legislation in the Senate that had been threatened by Marco Rubio and a dozen other members of the GOP.

The announcement will leave us with three questions.

The first is whether Manchin and Toomey have come up with an amendment to the gun bill that is reasonable. The second is whether it will pass the House of Representatives. But the third, and more interesting, point is whether this is the end or the beginning of a long campaign of efforts by gun control advocates to restrict Second Amendment rights. It is on the answer to that question that reaction from conservatives will hinge. If, rather than seeing this an effort to conclude a divisive debate with something most people can live with, the House Republican caucus believes the expansion of background checks is the thin edge of the wedge in a long-term liberal plan to ban guns, Manchin and Toomey will have achieved nothing.

As to the nature of the Manchin-Toomey proposal, their agreement to expand background checks to gun shows is bound to strike everyone but the leadership of the National Rifle Association as fairly reasonable. It’s not just that polls show overwhelming support for the idea. If you think existing background checks on the purchasers of firearms in gun stores are a sensible precaution, then having them cover sales at gun shows is only logical. As long as this exempts sales or exchanges of guns between family members, it’s hard to argue that such a measure would be too burdensome or be an infringement of Second Amendment rights.

Can such a measure pass Congress? That’s far from clear. Assuming that the liberals who run the Senate have the sense to embrace the Manchin-Toomey amendment, it should get through the upper body. Having a solid conservative like Toomey be the sponsor will help persuade some in the House GOP caucus to put aside their fears about any gun bill. If even a sizeable minority of House Republicans embrace it, that should be enough to allow its passage with solid Democratic support.

But that will hinge on the answer to the third question.

Some on the right are echoing the NRA in opposing any bill that will mean more record keeping about gun ownership, even if it is aimed at preventing criminals and the mentally ill from obtaining weapons. They do so not because they want such persons to get guns, but because they think any registry of weapons or gun ownership is the first step toward a government ban of all weapons–notwithstanding the incessant disclaimers from President Obama and other liberals about their support for the Second Amendment and their promises about not taking away anyone’s guns.

Those fears may sometimes be expressed in a manner that sounds unreasonable, but anyone who has been listening to liberals talk about guns for the last few decades understands that banning guns is exactly what many if not most of them really would like to do if they could. The fact that almost all of the gun proposals put forward by the administration in the wake of the Newtown massacre would have done nothing to prevent that tragedy only feeds the suspicion that it has been exploited to advance a left-wing agenda that will trash gun rights.

The Manchin-Toomey compromise is good politics for both parties, in that it will allow President Obama to tell his base that he achieved something on guns while giving Republicans the opportunity to pass a bill that could take a liberal talking point out of circulation without actually infringing on the Second Amendment. But if liberals trumpet background checks as the beginning of a new struggle to ban guns rather than an end in itself, it will be extremely difficult to persuade more House Republicans to support it. It remains to be seen whether the left will allow Manchin and Toomey to allay the fears of the right or will instead torpedo it in order to keep waving the bloody shirt of Newtown in 2014.

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When the Left Incites Violence

We’ve heard a lot of rhetoric in the last couple of months after the Newtown tragedy to the effect that the National Rifle Association was responsible for the murder of the children killed in that atrocity and other mass shootings. Whatever one might think of the NRA’s stand in opposition to any change in the gun laws, this sort of over-the-top attempt to delegitimize advocates of a point of view did nothing to help us understand that or similar crimes. But there has been at least one instance in which a national advocacy organization did directly incite and abet a crime involving gun violence.

As the Washington Examiner reports, the person charged with an attack on the Family Research Council in which a security guard was shot last summer did so after he read an entry on the Southern Poverty Law Center website designating the conservative organization as a “hate group” because it opposed gay marriage and helped him find its offices.

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We’ve heard a lot of rhetoric in the last couple of months after the Newtown tragedy to the effect that the National Rifle Association was responsible for the murder of the children killed in that atrocity and other mass shootings. Whatever one might think of the NRA’s stand in opposition to any change in the gun laws, this sort of over-the-top attempt to delegitimize advocates of a point of view did nothing to help us understand that or similar crimes. But there has been at least one instance in which a national advocacy organization did directly incite and abet a crime involving gun violence.

As the Washington Examiner reports, the person charged with an attack on the Family Research Council in which a security guard was shot last summer did so after he read an entry on the Southern Poverty Law Center website designating the conservative organization as a “hate group” because it opposed gay marriage and helped him find its offices.

Floyd Corkins II plead guilty yesterday to a federal firearms charge and D.C. terrorism and assault charges. His intention had been to slaughter as many employees of the FRC as possible. As an added indication of the political intent of this crime, his plan had been to smear the faces of his victims with Chick-fil-A sandwiches because the head of that company opposes gay marriage.

But it was only because the SPLC had inappropriately labeled the FRC a “hate group” did the shooter launch his unsuccessful attempt to murder people that he thought opposed his views on the issue of gay marriage.

It is true that the SPLC did not participate directly in the crime nor did Corkins act at their behest. But its intemperate rhetoric and lack of respect for opposing views did inspire his violent action in the sense that a reasonable person could infer from their website that the FRC was, in a very real sense, outside the law, much as the Ku Klux Klan, militias or a terrorist group might be. Referring to the FRC in that manner was not only inaccurate; it was a textbook example of how liberal incivility toward conservatives has consequences.

Needless to say, this outrageous conduct on the part of the Law Center did not inspire angry denunciations from the New York Times or the rest of the liberal media. Nor did it cause the president to use this incident to rally the country behind efforts to tighten laws concerning the possession of firearms.

But the shooter’s plea ought to remind those who have been so quick to label Americans who have misgivings about the efficacy or the wisdom of more gun control laws about something important. There is an organization that is guilty of incitement to violence; it is not the NRA, but rather an iconic group that is a favorite of liberal fundraising appeals. This incident has not gained a fraction of the coverage that other crimes have gotten but it should be imprinted on the memories of liberal journalists and activists who have done their best to falsely associate violence with conservatives.

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Can the NRA Stop Helping Obama?

President Obama’s campaign for his package of gun control proposals has uncertain prospects in Congress. But a day after he surrounded himself with children and family members of the victims of the Newtown massacre it’s clear his purpose is not so much to ban assault weapons as it is to energize liberals and demonize the National Rifle Association. The emotional nature of his presentation made it clear that if he has his way the upcoming debate on the issue would center on whether you want to keep 1st graders safe and not on whether a new assault weapons ban or any of the other ideas would actually do anything to prevent another Newtown, or similar shootings. The open question is whether gun rights advocates can distract the Senate and the public from this dramatic talk about dead children to the more sober one of how any of this will actually make Americans safer.

At the core of the answer to that query is the group that is supposedly leading the charge against Obama’s proposals. For decades the NRA has used its mass membership and clout on Capitol Hill to maintain a firewall of resistance to any infringement of the rights of gun owners. There is no reason to believe that support or clout has evaporated, but the fate of the president’s gun campaign may hinge on whether the NRA has become more of a liability to opponents of limitations on gun ownership than an asset. Liberals speak of a changed dynamic in the national conversation about guns after Newtown, but that may have more to do with the way the NRA has unwittingly played into the hands of the president over the last month. From its initial post-Newtown press conference, which turned into a public relations disaster, to its equally foolish ad that mentioned the president’s daughters, it has rapidly become clear that the NRA has become the president’s best ally in his effort to bulldoze opposition to a new assault weapons ban. While the chances of the president being able to get his way in Congress remain slight, every NRA blunder makes them seem a bit more realistic.

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President Obama’s campaign for his package of gun control proposals has uncertain prospects in Congress. But a day after he surrounded himself with children and family members of the victims of the Newtown massacre it’s clear his purpose is not so much to ban assault weapons as it is to energize liberals and demonize the National Rifle Association. The emotional nature of his presentation made it clear that if he has his way the upcoming debate on the issue would center on whether you want to keep 1st graders safe and not on whether a new assault weapons ban or any of the other ideas would actually do anything to prevent another Newtown, or similar shootings. The open question is whether gun rights advocates can distract the Senate and the public from this dramatic talk about dead children to the more sober one of how any of this will actually make Americans safer.

At the core of the answer to that query is the group that is supposedly leading the charge against Obama’s proposals. For decades the NRA has used its mass membership and clout on Capitol Hill to maintain a firewall of resistance to any infringement of the rights of gun owners. There is no reason to believe that support or clout has evaporated, but the fate of the president’s gun campaign may hinge on whether the NRA has become more of a liability to opponents of limitations on gun ownership than an asset. Liberals speak of a changed dynamic in the national conversation about guns after Newtown, but that may have more to do with the way the NRA has unwittingly played into the hands of the president over the last month. From its initial post-Newtown press conference, which turned into a public relations disaster, to its equally foolish ad that mentioned the president’s daughters, it has rapidly become clear that the NRA has become the president’s best ally in his effort to bulldoze opposition to a new assault weapons ban. While the chances of the president being able to get his way in Congress remain slight, every NRA blunder makes them seem a bit more realistic.

The NRA can point to the fact that its membership has grown in the weeks since Newtown. Its advocacy for more security for schools is popular as is its attempt to divert attention away from guns to video games even though that makes it look as if it is trying to save the Second Amendment by throwing the First under the bus.

The NRA’s efforts to persuade Senate Democrats not to back another assault weapons ban will also be strengthened by the confusion over which rifles fall under that rubric. As the New York Times noted in a feature today, the differences between most standard hunting rifles and those that might be called assault weapons may have more to do with cosmetic features, such as grips, than an ability to fire rapidly. Gun control advocates don’t want an assault weapons ban that will be drawn so narrowly as to leave out lots of weapons (Connecticut’s assault weapons ban did not include the AR-15, which was used in the Newtown murders), but if the law is written broadly it will be easier for the NRA to paint it as an effort to take legal sporting guns away from law-abiding citizens.

Like its counterparts on the left that support abortion, the NRA has often opposed even the most reasonable of gun control ideas because they saw them as the thin edge of the wedge of a movement to ban all guns. Though both the president and Vice President Biden continue to speak of their support for Second Amendment rights, far-reaching legislation will still be seen by many Americans as a manifestation of liberal disdain for gun rights rather than a reasonable attempt to limit weapons that are strictly military in nature.

The divide between urban and rural America about the role of guns in American culture and history has always been so great as to confound any attempt to make this a partisan issue. Gun control is doomed while Democrats and Republicans who represent districts outside of cities and suburbs are united in their desire to get “A” ratings from the NRA.

But the wild card in this equation is the president’s ability to demonize his opponents. If the conflict is between a Democratic president and the average American gun owner, the president will lose. But a standoff between the president and an NRA that can be depicted as the heartless foe of child safety and the cat’s paw of profiteering gun manufacturers is one the White House can win. That’s why the NRA’s decision to run the ad that mentioned Obama’s children was such a crucial blunder leading up to the president’s news conference yesterday. It played right into the White House’s talking points about their insensitivity and made the group seem like a bully.

The president can’t get his way on assault weapons so long as the debate is one that rests on logic and the facts about what will or won’t stop mass shootings. But so long as the focus is on the NRA, the president has a chance to win this battle. The switch from using the strident Wayne LaPierre as the group’s point man in the media to the more reasonable David Keene was a good decision. But even with Keene in the spotlight, it should be understood that the group is a natural piñata for both liberals and the media that may do their cause more harm than good.

Every PR blunder and misguided ad from the NRA is a gift to the president, as he successfully manipulates the nation’s emotional reaction to Newtown. As difficult as it may be for the NRA’s supporters to accept this, their best chance of prevailing in the Congress is to move out of the media spotlight and concentrate on low-key lobbying. The alternative will be to go on helping Obama by providing him with the straw man he needs to win a ban that gun owners feel will be only the first step toward the undermining of the Second Amendment.

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What is the NRA Thinking?

Needless to say, the past few weeks haven’t been great for the National Rifle Association from a PR perspective. Shortly after Wayne LaPierre’s controversial speech blaming 1990s-era video games and movies for the Sandy Hook shooting, the NRA was accused of releasing a simulated target-shooting app.

There is still some confusion over whether the game was actually issued by the NRA, or whether it was a hoax aimed at embarrassing the group. But at the moment, evidence points to the former–the game’s developer told the New York Times that it was, in fact, an officially-licensed product of the NRA. There is an easy solution to the mystery: if the game is not the NRA’s, the group could issue a statement explaining that. Its silence seems to suggest otherwise. 

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Needless to say, the past few weeks haven’t been great for the National Rifle Association from a PR perspective. Shortly after Wayne LaPierre’s controversial speech blaming 1990s-era video games and movies for the Sandy Hook shooting, the NRA was accused of releasing a simulated target-shooting app.

There is still some confusion over whether the game was actually issued by the NRA, or whether it was a hoax aimed at embarrassing the group. But at the moment, evidence points to the former–the game’s developer told the New York Times that it was, in fact, an officially-licensed product of the NRA. There is an easy solution to the mystery: if the game is not the NRA’s, the group could issue a statement explaining that. Its silence seems to suggest otherwise. 

That isn’t the only strange move from the gun rights lobbying group. They also released an aggressive ad about Obama’s children, calling the president an “elitist hypocrite” for opposing armed security at public schools while his own kids are protected by armed guards. It’s not that the sentiment is wrong–it’s that the ad itself isn’t politically helpful for the NRA. It comes off as fiery and partisan, during a time when many Democrats are standing up against the president’s overreach on gun control. Why intentionally antagonize Democratic allies at the very moment they’re needed most?

As Jim Geraghty noted in today’s Morning Jolt, public polling is not on Obama’s side on this issue. Americans largely support armed guards at schools, which is why the NRA’s hyper-aggressive strategy seems so unnecessary. A softer ad that focused on general child safety and stayed away from combative language would be much more helpful for the organization’s case.

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The Gun Control Bubble Pops

In the weeks since the Newtown shooting, the conventional wisdom has been that the country was so outraged about gun violence that the basic rules of Washington politics had been forever altered. The assumption was that a re-elected President Obama would get any sort of gun control legislation passed that he wanted and that the National Rifle Association would be powerless to stop him. But even before next Tuesday’s announcement of the recommendations made to the president by Vice President Biden, it appears as if everyone in the capital knows that it is highly unlikely that the administration will be able to pass any sort of major gun control bill. That’s the upshot of a New York Times article published this morning which, following up on the hints dropped by Biden yesterday, made it clear that the White House was probably more interested in lowering expectations about what they could achieve than bashing the NRA.

This has to leave a lot of liberals, who have been watching the talking heads on CNN and MSNBC spend the last month telling them that the Republicans would reinforce their status as the “stupid party” if they tried to obstruct Obama’s gun plans, wondering what happened. It turns out that the while most Americans probably support measures calling for more background checks or restrictions on ammunition, the massive shift in public opinion and among politicians that we were told had happened since Newtown is a figment of the liberal imagination. As even NBC’s Andrea Mitchell said on “Morning Joe” today, an attempt to reinstate an assault weapons ban or to pass a more far-reaching gun ban is never going to be passed.

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In the weeks since the Newtown shooting, the conventional wisdom has been that the country was so outraged about gun violence that the basic rules of Washington politics had been forever altered. The assumption was that a re-elected President Obama would get any sort of gun control legislation passed that he wanted and that the National Rifle Association would be powerless to stop him. But even before next Tuesday’s announcement of the recommendations made to the president by Vice President Biden, it appears as if everyone in the capital knows that it is highly unlikely that the administration will be able to pass any sort of major gun control bill. That’s the upshot of a New York Times article published this morning which, following up on the hints dropped by Biden yesterday, made it clear that the White House was probably more interested in lowering expectations about what they could achieve than bashing the NRA.

This has to leave a lot of liberals, who have been watching the talking heads on CNN and MSNBC spend the last month telling them that the Republicans would reinforce their status as the “stupid party” if they tried to obstruct Obama’s gun plans, wondering what happened. It turns out that the while most Americans probably support measures calling for more background checks or restrictions on ammunition, the massive shift in public opinion and among politicians that we were told had happened since Newtown is a figment of the liberal imagination. As even NBC’s Andrea Mitchell said on “Morning Joe” today, an attempt to reinstate an assault weapons ban or to pass a more far-reaching gun ban is never going to be passed.

That’s got to puzzle those who were certain that Newtown had fundamentally changed the discussion in this country about guns. But as the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel points out in an insightful analysis today, the president can’t even count on Democratic support for an assault weapons ban, let alone Republicans. Indeed, it’s far from clear that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid or Joe Manchin, who was the media’s poster child for gun lovers who had seen the light, will back an assault weapons ban.

The president may talk about more gun control and Newtown in his second inaugural speech and hope it will be a useful stick with which to keep beating Republicans. But since the House will wait to see if anything passes the Senate before voting it down, the odds are that it will be Senate Democrats who fear being portrayed as foes of the Second Amendment that will be the ones administering the coup de grace on any far-reaching legislation that Biden puts forward.

Moreover, the notion that the White House will prioritize the gun issue in the coming months also fails to take into account that the president has a much more important fight on his hands with the budget and the upcoming debt ceiling showdown. Since he is in a stronger position on that one, not to mention that the state of the economy will have a lot more to do with whether his second term turns out to be a nightmare, gun control advocates are probably dreaming if they think Obama will spend much of his finite political capital on assault weapons.

This shouldn’t cause anyone to think that the NRA is totally out of the woods. Senate Democrats who don’t dare ban weapons will look to support some part of Biden’s proposals. That means the gun lobby will probably lose some part of this battle since the White House appears to be willing to take what they can get rather than waste the coming months pushing a forlorn hope.

But the main point to take away from this turnaround is the fashion in which media elites are disconnected from political reality.

The aftermath of Newtown did give gun control advocates an opening to refloat all of their old proposals with more traction than they have had in many years. And the NRA flubbed the aftermath of the shooting with a press conference that was remarkable for its tone and cluelessness.

But none of that changes the fact that there is still a reliable majority in Congress that is opposed to infringement on the right to possess guns and little proof that any such legislation would stop tragedies like Newtown from happening. There is probably a consensus that can be built on issues on the margin of this issue, like background checks, but nothing more.

That so many talking heads blithely assumed that all this would change after Newtown was merely wishful thinking on their part. That’s something to remember the next time liberals make similar assumptions about the conventional wisdom that they are trying to foist on the country.

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Demonizing Gun Owners Isn’t Working

In less than three weeks since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the battle over gun rights has remained in the news thanks to both opponents and supporters of the Second Amendment. The “meaningful action” that President Obama promised would take place the day of the Newtown shooting is still being debated by yet another presidential task force. The task force was set to meet with gun sellers (like Walmart), gun rights advocates and gun control supporters today and members of the entertainment and video game industry later in the afternoon. 

While the national gun conversation rages on, liberals have decided to play hardball with legal gun owners, attempting to shame those who apply for gun permits so that they can legally and safely own and carry guns. The opening salvo came from the Journal News, a local New York newspaper that decided to publish the names and addresses, including a handy map, of every single legally permitted gun owner in Westchester County. Alana wrote about a hilarious twist in the story when the newspaper’s editors, who had received a significant amount of flak for the story, decided to employ armed guards in order to protect the newspaper’s offices.

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In less than three weeks since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the battle over gun rights has remained in the news thanks to both opponents and supporters of the Second Amendment. The “meaningful action” that President Obama promised would take place the day of the Newtown shooting is still being debated by yet another presidential task force. The task force was set to meet with gun sellers (like Walmart), gun rights advocates and gun control supporters today and members of the entertainment and video game industry later in the afternoon. 

While the national gun conversation rages on, liberals have decided to play hardball with legal gun owners, attempting to shame those who apply for gun permits so that they can legally and safely own and carry guns. The opening salvo came from the Journal News, a local New York newspaper that decided to publish the names and addresses, including a handy map, of every single legally permitted gun owner in Westchester County. Alana wrote about a hilarious twist in the story when the newspaper’s editors, who had received a significant amount of flak for the story, decided to employ armed guards in order to protect the newspaper’s offices.

Yesterday the Internet-rag Gawker published its own version under the headline “Here Is a List of All the A—holes Who Own Guns in New York City,” publicizing the names of every single legal gun owner in New York City, minus their addresses (not out of a sense of decency, but instead out of an inability to obtain them from the NYPD under the Freedom of Information Act). The author of the piece, John Cook, saw no problem with addresses of gun owners being published on the web, stating “In any case, it’s clear that many of the Rockland County and Westchester County gun owners who are outraged at having their addresses plastered on the internet have had those addresses plastered on the internet for years without it causing a problem.” In response, some readers decided to tweet the author’s address, that was already “plastered on the internet,” which was met with an expected amount of hypocritical outrage. I have to wonder if Cook will soon attempt to become a registered gun owner himself in response to real or perceived threats after his Gawker piece. 

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, an expected candidate for mayor, spoke out against the Gawker list, telling gun owners “you have not done anything wrong. You’ve met the legal standard.” Unfortunately, Quinn, like Governor Cuomo yesterday, made clear her desire to make legal gun ownership that much more difficult in New York City and state. Quinn remarked “Now do I think the legal standard is high enough or strong enough? No. And do I want to do everything I can to limit the number of guns that are out there? Yes.” A commenter on the story for CBS Local New York asked:

Does she even have an idea about how hard it is to get a legal handgun in this city? She wants tougher rules for it? They already took my tax returns, bank statements, character references, pictures of my place of work, mental health records, personal interview, FBI background check, finger prints, and all this takes almost a year. What else could she add to this to make it “better”?

In response to this kind of gun owner demonization, the NRA has reported astronomical fundraising numbers, announcing to Politico that in just 18 days it has added more than 100,000 new members (aka donors) to its rosters. As Jonathan rightly remarked yesterday, “the more liberals talk about taking away legal guns the better things are for the NRA.”

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Cuomo Does the NRA a Favor

Governor Andrew Cuomo was merely appealing to his blue state liberal base when he said recently that “confiscation could be an option” when considering possible changes in New York’s gun laws. Since then, Cuomo has acknowledged that forcing citizens to give up their legally owned firearms is not the most practical idea to emanate from Albany. New York already has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, including an assault weapons ban. But Cuomo, like President Obama, is looking to capitalize on the public outrage about the Newtown massacre to build up support for even more restrictions on gun ownership.

Given that the existing gun laws—which are aimed at making possession of a weapon more difficult for law-abiding citizens—don’t seem to have made it harder for criminals to obtain illegal guns, it’s not clear that a new round of legislation at either the federal or the state level is going to do much to prevent a repeat of Newtown in which a crazed gunman runs amuck. But you can bet that Cuomo’s loose talk about “confiscation” will do wonders for the National Rifle Association’s fundraising campaign.

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Governor Andrew Cuomo was merely appealing to his blue state liberal base when he said recently that “confiscation could be an option” when considering possible changes in New York’s gun laws. Since then, Cuomo has acknowledged that forcing citizens to give up their legally owned firearms is not the most practical idea to emanate from Albany. New York already has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, including an assault weapons ban. But Cuomo, like President Obama, is looking to capitalize on the public outrage about the Newtown massacre to build up support for even more restrictions on gun ownership.

Given that the existing gun laws—which are aimed at making possession of a weapon more difficult for law-abiding citizens—don’t seem to have made it harder for criminals to obtain illegal guns, it’s not clear that a new round of legislation at either the federal or the state level is going to do much to prevent a repeat of Newtown in which a crazed gunman runs amuck. But you can bet that Cuomo’s loose talk about “confiscation” will do wonders for the National Rifle Association’s fundraising campaign.

Democrats like Cuomo are on firm ground when they speak of tightening the laws on assault weapons as well as restricting the sale of ammunition clips that give shooters the ability to fire massive amounts of bullets in a short space of time. Most Americans, even those that own guns and support Second Amendment rights, are amenable to the notion that government has the right to regulate military-style weapons. That is the sort of thing that strikes most people as reasonable. In the aftermath of Newtown there is an appetite for more gun control, and so long as those laws don’t impinge on basic gun rights, they are likely to pass in the changed political climate since the slaughter of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

But the moment a prominent liberal office-holder starts talking about governmental measures that involve taking away firearms that were legally obtained, they are doing the NRA a favor. The group’s down-the-line opposition to even the most reasonable of gun regulations stems from a belief that any restriction on gun ownership is the thin edge of the wedge toward abolition of the right to bear arms. That’s why groups that seek to promote gun control, such as the one just founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband to oppose the NRA, have been at pains to say that they don’t want to take away guns from citizens.

Initiatives like the ones championed by Cuomo or the one being cooked up by Vice President Biden at President Obama’s behest aren’t likely to accomplish much. The virtues of new legislation for Democrats are primarily political. New laws allow them to claim they are doing something to stop another Newtown even if it doesn’t address the vital issue of mental health. They also appeal to their liberal base that longs to hear more talk about confiscation.

But the more liberals talk about taking away legal guns the better things are for the NRA. The group shot itself in the foot last month with a ham-handed and insensitive response to Newtown that put it very much on the political defensive. They have yet to recover from that blunder. But comments like those of Cuomo are catnip to the NRA, since they are certain to energize their donors and activists and scare members of Congress who may have been wavering in their loyalty to the group’s demands after Newtown. No matter what changes are made to New York’s already vast body of gun restrictions, Cuomo’s quote will be a gift that keeps on giving to the NRA for years to come.

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Those Courageous Liberals

The question at the heart of the Chuck Hagel controversy was always whether President Obama actually wanted Hagel as his secretary of defense, or whether it was all a gimmick to trick the press into further proclaiming the absurd-beyond-belief characterization of Obama’s cabinet as a “team of rivals.” You would think it would raise some eyebrows that this supposed ream of rivals all agree with each other. But Obama figured the press could be fooled again by appointing a registered Republican to run the Pentagon.

A gimmick, however, is generally not worth fighting for. But to understand why Obama thought the press could be fooled so easily into this nonsense, take a look at yesterday’s National Journal article, which broke the news that the White House is considering dropping Hagel. It’s a well-reported piece that got a scoop where everyone else merely had inklings. But notice the way this straight news story characterizes Hagel’s stand on the Iraq War:

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The question at the heart of the Chuck Hagel controversy was always whether President Obama actually wanted Hagel as his secretary of defense, or whether it was all a gimmick to trick the press into further proclaiming the absurd-beyond-belief characterization of Obama’s cabinet as a “team of rivals.” You would think it would raise some eyebrows that this supposed ream of rivals all agree with each other. But Obama figured the press could be fooled again by appointing a registered Republican to run the Pentagon.

A gimmick, however, is generally not worth fighting for. But to understand why Obama thought the press could be fooled so easily into this nonsense, take a look at yesterday’s National Journal article, which broke the news that the White House is considering dropping Hagel. It’s a well-reported piece that got a scoop where everyone else merely had inklings. But notice the way this straight news story characterizes Hagel’s stand on the Iraq War:

While much of the criticism centers on questions of whether Hagel has been a strong enough supporter of Israel and tough enough on Iran–as well as past comments he made about gay people–he is also paying, in part, for his bluntness and bravery in advocating unpopular positions during his 12 years in the Senate. Hagel’s gutsy and prescient stand against his own party and President George W. Bush in the run-up to the Iraq invasion—and his criticism of the war’s management afterwards—all but cost him his political career, turning him from a possible GOP presidential contender into a pariah within his party.

As John Tabin noted last night, something is missing from the description of Hagel’s “prescient” stand against the Iraq War. And that something would be Hagel’s vote in favor of the Iraq War. What’s more, turning on the war effort when trouble hit was far from constituting “bravery,” as National Journal would have it. It was the popular thing to do.

Beyond the fact that reporters should not be bestowing medals upon politicians in straight news articles such as this, and in addition to the need to actually get the history and the facts right, there is the pattern of the press deciding that whenever a politician takes a stand on an issue that they agree with, it’s brave and courageous.

Hagel didn’t vote against the Iraq War, so his bravery consists of badmouthing Republicans and conservatives. In our current media climate, that is possibly among the least-brave acts one can take. But yesterday’s news also centered on the ongoing controversy over gun control in the wake of the Newtown tragedy–and it followed the same pattern and took the same tone it has since the fatal shooting took place. In a column about gun control, the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof had earlier asked: “Do We Have the Courage to Stop This?” What kind of courage, specifically, do we need? Kristof answers: “the gumption to stand up to National Rifle Association extremists.”

Of course. Just as in the case of Hagel’s nomination, we hear of powerful lobbies controlling members of Congress. But is it really courageous to attack the NRA? Bashing the NRA has been a daily ritual since the tragedy in Newtown, and both Republican lawmakers and Democratic legislators have said they’re open to adjusting their positions on gun control in favor of stricter rules and in defiance of the NRA.

But of course to the left, listening to interest groups can also be courageous and wise—it just depends on the interest groups. California Governor Jerry Brown is presiding over a fiscal basket case well on its way to becoming a failed state. But the L.A. Times, in discussing how to grade Brown’s year, can’t decide “whether to give him a B-plus, an A-minus or a full A.” What did Brown do to earn such accolades? He raised taxes on the state’s high earners. Specifically, “He merged his tax proposal with a more liberal version sponsored by the California Federation of Teachers.”

So allowing public sector union leaders to write legislation aimed at protecting their benefits by getting to choose who pays for them gets Brown on the dean’s list. It doesn’t seem to matter that the tax increase is already seen as a laughable bit of delusional public policy and that the state’s finances keep getting worse even as Brown and the unions celebrate their victory. When the tax initiative seemed headed for defeat, its supporters in the business community stepped forward to rally support. In another supposed straight news article, the San Francisco Chronicle called supporters of the tax hike “The few and the brave.” In case you didn’t get the point, one of the major liberal groups supporting the measure calls itself the Courage Campaign. After the tax passed, Brown praised the state’s “courageous decision.”

The liberal press knows bravery when it sees it. It’s just a coincidence that by their own criteria, America’s newspaper reporters join the Hagels and Browns up on that pedestal.

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NRA’s Schools Idea Not Crazy, Just Liberal

National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre doubled down on his defiant stance in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre yesterday by defending his proposal for a federal program to put armed guards at schools around the nation on the Sunday talk shows. On “Meet the Press,” he said, “If it’s crazy to call for armed officers in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy.” He’s right to the extent that there is nothing foolish about a discussion about strengthening security in schools. But NRA members who have lashed out at anyone who had the temerity to criticize LaPierre for his tone deaf response to Newtown after a week of silence, as I did both here at Contentions and in the New York Post, should realize something else. LaPierre’s idea may not be crazy, but it also isn’t conservative.

If there is anything at the heart of the modern conservative moment it’s the impulse to push back at the liberal drive to increase the power and the reach of the federal government at the expense of the states and local communities. Nothing is a greater threat to our individual liberty than giving federal bureaucrats the ability to impose their fiats on the nation through unfunded mandates and regulations. Yet that is exactly what LaPierre’s hare-brained scheme to make school security a federal program would do. After decades of furiously and rightly resisting attempts by liberals to bypass local resistance to gun control laws via federal legislation, the NRA is now playing the same card. If the group wants to know why most congressional Republicans have given the idea a chilly reception, it’s not only due to the public relations disaster that resulted from the group’s Friday presser; it’s because nationalizing school security is a liberal concept, not a conservative one.

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National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre doubled down on his defiant stance in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre yesterday by defending his proposal for a federal program to put armed guards at schools around the nation on the Sunday talk shows. On “Meet the Press,” he said, “If it’s crazy to call for armed officers in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy.” He’s right to the extent that there is nothing foolish about a discussion about strengthening security in schools. But NRA members who have lashed out at anyone who had the temerity to criticize LaPierre for his tone deaf response to Newtown after a week of silence, as I did both here at Contentions and in the New York Post, should realize something else. LaPierre’s idea may not be crazy, but it also isn’t conservative.

If there is anything at the heart of the modern conservative moment it’s the impulse to push back at the liberal drive to increase the power and the reach of the federal government at the expense of the states and local communities. Nothing is a greater threat to our individual liberty than giving federal bureaucrats the ability to impose their fiats on the nation through unfunded mandates and regulations. Yet that is exactly what LaPierre’s hare-brained scheme to make school security a federal program would do. After decades of furiously and rightly resisting attempts by liberals to bypass local resistance to gun control laws via federal legislation, the NRA is now playing the same card. If the group wants to know why most congressional Republicans have given the idea a chilly reception, it’s not only due to the public relations disaster that resulted from the group’s Friday presser; it’s because nationalizing school security is a liberal concept, not a conservative one.

As the New York Times reported, approximately one-third of all schools in the nation already have armed personnel on campus. Though most of these have been in urban areas where gangs and crime are at the root of the concern, others are starting to talk about increasing security, including having guards with firearms. But these decisions are the result of choices being made by local officials and communities, not a dictat issued from Washington. If federal programs such as “No Child Left Behind” have proved to be mistakes because they don’t give school districts the flexibility to make their own judgments, how much more misguided is the NRA’s attempt to make guns in schools a matter of federal purview.

It’s not exactly a secret that LaPierre’s presentation about school security was an attempt to divert the country’s attention from its grief about Newtown and the debate about a renewed push for gun control. Most Americans still support gun rights, if not in the absolutist fashion that the NRA feels is essential to fend off any sort of restrictions that could be an opening for those who wish to make gun possession illegal. But it’s not fooling anyone with its National Model School Shield Program. It’s something that will give Washington the ability to interfere in yet another sphere of our lives and it hasn’t a chance of mustering the support it needs from either liberal Democrats that despise the NRA or conservatives who understand that is not what the country needs.

The notion that a good guy packing heat needs to be there to stop bad guys with guns is sensible. But if LaPierre really believes that Americans wish to cede control of their schools to the federal government, he really is crazy.

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The NRA Should Have Stayed Silent

The last week must have been excruciating for the National Rifle Association and its leaders. They wisely decided to stay silent in the days after the Newtown massacre even though that meant ceding the national stage to its opponents, who subjected the group to withering and often unfair criticism as well as shamelessly exploiting the tragedy in order to resurrect gun control proposals that drew little or no interest during the election. But one week of silence wasn’t enough.

The speech delivered today by Wayne LaPierre, the group’s executive vice president, was a memorable disaster and likely to do far more damage to its reputation than much of the sniping aimed at the NRA in the previous days. The problem was not so much substance as its tone, as the group’s leader delivered a hectoring lecture to the nation that managed to make a good idea—more security at schools—sound nutty. In the course of his rant, he also managed to make it sound as if the only way to defend the Second Amendment is to throw the First under the bus as he sought to blame the entertainment industry for gun violence. The group that generally opposes registration of firearms also called for a national registry of the mentally ill. Though LaPierre was right to predict the liberal news media would depict his statements as extreme, the group did itself no favor by jumping back into the debate so soon with a presentation that was bereft of any sense that the ground had shifted during their hiatus out of the public eye. What was needed most from the NRA was a reasonable tone, not attempts to provide different scapegoats for the public’s anger over Newtown such as the gun-free school zones or video games. Another week or even a month of radio silence from the NRA would have been better for its cause than this.

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The last week must have been excruciating for the National Rifle Association and its leaders. They wisely decided to stay silent in the days after the Newtown massacre even though that meant ceding the national stage to its opponents, who subjected the group to withering and often unfair criticism as well as shamelessly exploiting the tragedy in order to resurrect gun control proposals that drew little or no interest during the election. But one week of silence wasn’t enough.

The speech delivered today by Wayne LaPierre, the group’s executive vice president, was a memorable disaster and likely to do far more damage to its reputation than much of the sniping aimed at the NRA in the previous days. The problem was not so much substance as its tone, as the group’s leader delivered a hectoring lecture to the nation that managed to make a good idea—more security at schools—sound nutty. In the course of his rant, he also managed to make it sound as if the only way to defend the Second Amendment is to throw the First under the bus as he sought to blame the entertainment industry for gun violence. The group that generally opposes registration of firearms also called for a national registry of the mentally ill. Though LaPierre was right to predict the liberal news media would depict his statements as extreme, the group did itself no favor by jumping back into the debate so soon with a presentation that was bereft of any sense that the ground had shifted during their hiatus out of the public eye. What was needed most from the NRA was a reasonable tone, not attempts to provide different scapegoats for the public’s anger over Newtown such as the gun-free school zones or video games. Another week or even a month of radio silence from the NRA would have been better for its cause than this.

The substance as well as the tone of his remarks appalled many reporters and media figures, who started sniping at LaPierre on Twitter. But there was nothing wrong with advocating for more armed security guards at schools. He happened to be right when he said the only thing that can stop a “bad guy” with a gun was a good guy with one. But his trenchant observation that gun-free school zones are open invitations to armed lunatics came out as sounding as if those who proposed such areas had the blood of the children of Newtown on their hands. That seemed of a piece with the smears shouted by Code Pink members who attempted to disrupt the presser by shouting that the NRA was guilty of killing children. Doing so distracted attention from what could be a reasonable proposal.

LaPierre’s attempt to pivot the discussion away from guns to video games was equally disingenuous. The prevalence of violence in our popular culture is a real problem, but it ill behooves a group founded on a belief that the Second Amendment must be preserved at all costs to take stands that sounded as if it was willing to hypocritically sacrifice the First with its protection of free speech.

The same applies to their talk about a national registry of mentally ill persons. Incidents like Newtown are more the product of mental illness than inadequate gun legislation, but the NRA seemed to be advocating exactly the sort of Big Brother government measure that it would fight to do the death where it to be applied to weapons.

What was needed from the NRA was a signal that it was prepared to react to the outrage about Newtown with reasoned suggestions about keeping any guns out of the hands of people like Adam Lanza. Instead, it sallied forth with its usual arguments about why any form of gun control or legislation, no matter how reasonable, must be rejected out of hand. That may have been what many of its 4 million members wanted but it was not the thing to say only 90 minutes after a national minute of silence exactly one week after Newtown. That the presser ended with the group’s president calling for a national conversation but then adding that they would take no questions was just the icing on the cake of a public relations disaster.

As difficult as LaPierre’s task may have been, he failed to advance his group’s cause. It was too soon after Newtown for the NRA to resume its usual rhetoric, even if many of its arguments are sound. He did that cause far more harm by speaking than if he had chosen to stay silent.

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