There’s a lot of outrage today after the U.S. Senate failed to move a mild gun control measure toward further debate. A bipartisan measure from Sens. Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin to extend background checks to gun shows and weapons bought over the Internet is dead. It would have died in the GOP-controlled House eventually but its ignoble early death in the Senate is galling to many. President Barack Obama led the outrage with a long retort on Wednesday.
One of the points raised by those outraged by the Senate killing the measure is that 90 percent of Americans support the extended background checks. I imagine that number is likely pretty close to the truth, but don’t expect there to be a wave of public anger that shifts the debate over guns and sweeps pro-NRA pols out of office. (The president more or less made that appeal in his remarks yesterday).
This Gallup poll explains what I mean. Only 4 percent of Americans see guns/gun control as their most important issue. Most may agree that it’s be nice to have tougher background checks, but they are not going to vote against Senator X or Senator Y because of Wednesday’s vote. In fact, I’d wager that among those small minorities who will vote on how a pol votes on gun control, the intensity is higher among opponents of more gun control measures. There basically 55 votes to move the bill forward yesterday (Sen. Harry Reid voted no for a procedural reason), but it’s in no way sure that even the mild Toomey-Manchin bill would have cleared the Senate in a final vote. And, frankly, it would have been dead on arrival in the U.S. House.
Jennifer Steinhauer, writing in the New York Times today, sums up the recent legislative comedy well. “The 68 votes last week to allow the debate on gun legislation to proceed was a mirage, a temporary triumph granted by senators willing to allow shooting victims and their survivors the vote they sought with absolutely no intention of supporting the final legislation and crossing the gun lobby or constituents who see gun rights as a defining issue.”
Charles W. Cooke, writing in the conservative National Review, also notes that despite supporters bringing gun violence victims such as former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and families of Newtown victims, to cheer for the various congressional gun control bill, no gun control advocates “could get past the fact that laws banning assault weapons, limiting magazine size, and forcing background checks upon all gun transfers would do nothing to stop maniacs. They could not present ploys such as “if it can save one life . . . ” without looking manipulative and desperate. People can tell when their representatives don’t know what they’re talking about, and they know when they’re being played.”
The best gun control advocates can hope for is that the heightened conversation on gun control since the December Newtown atrocity continues. Right now, it’s not going anywhere in Congress.