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.