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“The Electoral Landscape Has Shifted”: Republicans May Finally Pay A Price For Towing NRA Line On Guns

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who led an unusual talking filibuster this week to promote Democratic measures on guns, now wants to take the issue to the ballot box.  Here’s what he told Roll Call in an article published today:

“There has to be a storyline coming out of 2016 that shows that senators that voted against consensus measures like mandatory background checks pay a political price.”

Which sounds like standard political rhetoric — everyone says that the public will rise up and support them on their issues. But the crazy thing is, he might be right.

I don’t say this lightly — I’ve been writing about the gun issue for years, and though I’ve long argued that the the NRA’s power to punish its enemies and reward its friends at the ballot box is a myth, it’s extremely rare for Republicans to actually lose elections because of the gun issue. But a confluence of events and critical timing could make 2016 different. Most surprising of all, there’s even a remote but real possibility that Congress could pass a gun control measure in 2017.

In the wake of the shooting in Orlando, Democrats are now pushing two separate ideas, both of which have failed to make it through Congress before. The first would make it easier for the federal government to stop gun sales to those who have been investigated for terrorism, which we’re going to put aside for the moment. The second proposal is universal background checks, which would extend those checks to private sales that today don’t require them, closing the “private seller loophole.”

It’s long been a source of wonder that in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre when 20 elementary school children were gunned down, and with polls showing support for the measure running at 90 percent (including huge majorities of gun owners), Congress still couldn’t pass universal background checks. If it didn’t happen then, why could it happen now? The answer is that timing is everything.

The Sandy Hook massacre took place in December of 2012. When Congress began to debate the Manchin-Toomey bill that included background checks, it was 2013. The election to which lawmakers were looking forward was the 2014 off-year election. Everyone knew that, with a Democratic president, it was going to be another big year for Republicans, since their voters are more likely to turn out in non-presidential years than Democratic voters are. So one of the big questions was how vulnerable Democrats from Republican-leaning states, who had been elected in the 2008 Obama wave, were going to vote.

In the end, the bill had a 54-46 majority, not enough to overcome the Republicans’ filibuster. Among the Democrats who voted for it were Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, both of whom lost their re-election bids that November. Four Democrats opposed it: the retiring Max Baucus, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Heidi Heitkamp of South Dakota. Begich and Pryor lost that year, too, while Heitkamp isn’t up for reelection until 2018. And on the Republican side, only Pat Toomey (the bill’s co-sponsor), John McCain, Susan Collins, and Mark Kirk voted in favor.

It’s unclear exactly how much of an impact their votes had on the campaigns of Hagan, Landrieu, Begich, and Pryor. But you can bet that facing an electorate they knew was going to be stacked against them, the vote weighed on their minds.

Now let’s think about the current environment. The senators up for re-election this year came into office in the tea party wave of 2010, which is why Republicans are defending many more seats than Democrats. The most vulnerable Republicans are those from Democratic-leaning states, who now have to face a presidential-year electorate that will be much more tilted to Democratic voters than it was when they got elected the first time. They’ll also be carrying the weight of their party’s presidential nominee behind them.

Those vulnerable senators are the following, in rough order of how likely they already are to lose in November: Mark Kirk (IL), Ron Johnson (WI), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Rob Portman (OH), and Pat Toomey (PA). If Marco Rubio decides to run again, you can put him in there too. Ayotte, Johnson, and Portman all voted against the Manchin-Toomey bill in 2013. Do you think their Democratic opponents are going to make an issue out of that? Oh yes they will.

In fact, even before Orlando, Ayotte was running ads claiming to be a background check supporter, when what she actually backed was an NRA-approved alternative to Manchin-Toomey, one that was about as meaningful as you’d expect. Portman now says he’s open to restricting sales to people probed for terrorism, but his campaign web site goes on in some length about his opposition to universal background checks. Johnson has suggested there might be a possible compromise on gun sales and the terror watch list, but he hasn’t changed his position on background checks, so there will be plenty of opportunities for Democrats to criticize him on that. Kirk is almost certain to lose anyway.

And Pat Toomey? Well, if Toomey does survive when other Republicans lose, many people will say that his high-profile advocacy for background checks was an important reason. If you combine that with defeats of other Republicans, you could see an entirely new conventional wisdom take shape, one that says that the electoral landscape on guns has shifted. Now it’s Republicans who are on the defensive, because of their doctrinaire opposition to even measures that nine out of ten Americans support.

There is a scenario in which even the NRA’s lock on Congress — which, unlike their alleged electoral potency, is real — could be broken. It’s possible (even if it’s a longshot) that the Democrats could take control of the House in an anti-Trump sweep to go with their (much more likely) win in the Senate. Passing something like background checks would require overcoming a filibuster, which is not likely at all. But it’s also possible that, in the face of broad and increasingly maddening filibuster abuse, Democrats could decide to get rid of the procedure altogether. That would be a momentous move, but it isn’t out of the question. And if they did, they could pass a background check bill for President Hillary Clinton to sign.

Yes, a lot of pieces would have to fall into place for that to happen. But even if it doesn’t, chances are we’ll come out of this election with a bunch of senators having paid a price for their alliance with the NRA, and everyone will know it. That in itself would be a major change.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, June 17, 2016

June 20, 2016 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Control, National Rifle Association, Senate Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“When Silence Is Just Not Loud Enough”: Moments Of Silence In The House Have Become An Abomination

Our president was speaking to us in his grave yet hopeful voice, a timbre and tone he has had much practice in using. Far too much practice.

He uses it when there has been a mass shooting in America. And by some counts, this was his 14th time.

“We have to make it harder for people who want to kill Americans to get their hands on weapons of war,” our president is saying.

We have been working on that one for a while. But it is really not a matter of human lives lost, people lying in pools of blood or corpses shredded by gunfire.

Solving that problem would be relatively easy. The real problem is political — which is why no gun legislation with a serious chance of passing stands before Congress.

The body counts, the gore, the all-too-vivid last moments captured on a hand-held camera mean nothing compared with the politics of gun ownership.

It remains very easy to buy a semi-automatic rifle almost anywhere in America. Only seven states ban them.

So the killing continues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2013 guns were used in 11,208 deaths by homicide. That’s a lot. That’s nearly 31 per day.

Why so many? “Crazy” is a popular choice. Do you have to be crazy to shoot and kill 49 people in a nightclub? How about 20 small children in an elementary school? Or 12 people at a Batman movie?

Were all the shooters crazy? Could be. But foreign countries have crazy people, too, and many countries’ murder rates are much lower than ours.

Again, why? One reason is that in America, we allow individuals to own weapons of mass destruction — semi-automatic firearms with large magazines.

And though Congress banned them for 10 years — 1994 to 2004 — it has refused to reinstate the ban even though mass killings continue.

In America, a gun is not just a gun. It is a fetish, a totem, an icon. It has an appeal that defies mere logic.

Charles Bronson — and I swear I am not making up the name — is the former commissioner of agriculture and consumer services for the state of Florida. He used to be in charge of gun permits. Today he is still against more stringent gun laws, such as the ones that would ban semi-automatic AR-15 military-style rifles.

“People use AR-15s to hunt deer, to hunt hogs, to hunt all kinds of game,” Bronson told a reporter, and he said it would be a shame to change the gun laws “because of one person’s lawlessness.”

I am trying to see his point of view: One person kills 49 people and wounds 53 others, and that is nothing compared with the pleasure of executing a hog.

All these arguments are familiar. Everything about mass shootings is achingly familiar — the moments of silence, the lighting of candles, the wearing of ribbons, the hourlong news specials, the flags at half-staff, the president coming down to the briefing room and then the full-scale speech like the one President Barack Obama will make Thursday in Orlando.

“These mass shootings are happening so often now that lamenting them afterwards is becoming a national ritual,” Conan O’Brien said Monday.

O’Brien is a late-night comic. He is also an observer of life in these United States. It is sometimes hard to observe that life and still remain a comic, and I admire him for trying.

“I have really tried very hard over the years not to bore you with what I think,” he said, his voice growing angrier as he spoke. “However, I am a father of two. I like to believe I have a shred of common sense, and I simply do not understand why anybody in this country is allowed to purchase and own a semi-automatic assault rifle. … These are weapons of war, and they have no place in civilian life. …

“I do not know the answer, but I wanted to take just a moment here tonight to agree with the rapidly growing sentiment in America that it’s time to grow up and figure this out.”

Time to grow up. A fine idea. And I really wish the sentiment behind it were “rapidly growing.” Because not everybody in America will get a chance to grow up. Some of those children we send each morning to the “safety” of their schools will never make it back home alive. (According to Everytown for Gun Safety, “since 2013, there have been at least 188 school shootings in America — an average of nearly one a week.”)

On Capitol Hill on Monday, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan called for a ritual moment of silence in the House chamber to commemorate those killed in Orlando.

Connecticut Democrat Jim Himes stood up and walked off the floor instead. Previously, he had tweeted:

“I will not attend one more ‘Moment of Silence’ on the Floor. Our silence does not honor the victims, it mocks them.”

“The Moments of Silence in the House have become an abomination. God will ask you, ‘How did you keep my children safe’? Silence.”

“If God is an angry God, prepare to know a hell well beyond that lived day to day by the families of the butchered. I will not be silent.”

And I, for one, hope he keeps talking, tweeting, speaking out and walking out.

 

By: Roger Simon, The National Memo, June 15, 2016

June 17, 2016 Posted by | Congress, Gun Control, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Only Sensible Answer To A Brutal Problem”: It’s Time: Democrats Are Speaking Up About Gun Control

Pressure from Democrats to finally push the needle on gun reform, after repeated mass shootings have been met with silence from the right, came just hours after the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. Following House Speaker Paul Ryan’s usual moment of silence on the floor on Monday, Democrats chanted “Where’s the bill?” and dismissed the silence as meaningless without legislative action.

Democrats are pursuing a slate of legislation, including “No Fly, No Buy,” which would ban those on the FBI’s no-fly list from accessing guns; addressing the “Charleston loophole,” which allows guns to be sold after a three-day waiting period, even if the FBI’s background check isn’t complete; and legislation that would ban anyone convicted of a hate crime from purchasing guns.

On Wednesday, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and other senate Democrats staged an old-school talking filibuster to urge movement on gun reform. And while a handful of conservative voices — and Donald Trump, via a tweet — have come out in favor of curbing access to military-style weapons, the vast majority pivoted towards focusing on “radical Islamic terrorism” in the wake of the attack.

Republicans talk a tough terrorism game, yet they don’t see a problem with suspected terrorists being able to purchase guns. As Hillary Clinton tweeted on Wednesday, “people can’t board planes with full shampoo bottles — but people being watched by the FBI for terrorism can buy a gun, no questions asked?” The nation was able to swiftly pass new airport security measures in the wake of 9/11, yet in the wake of the worst LGBT hate crime in American history, and the worst terrorist on American soil attack since 9/11, Republicans are holding back, hiding behind the Second Amendment.

The effort by Republicans to shift the debate away from gun control and towards ISIS is a reflection of who is really pulling the strings — the gun manufacturing lobby. Ted Cruz has raked in $36,229 from gun lobbyists. When, as speaker of the Florida House, Marco Rubio’s caucus failed to pass a bill allowing employees to bring firearms to work, NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer complained ominously that Rubio “talked the talk, but he didn’t walk the walk.”

The CEO of Sturm, Ruger, and Co., Michael Fifer, assured shareholders a month ago that, although demand for their product was “easing,” they should anticipate higher gun sales during the election season, as the “rhetoric from both sides” will “[keep] consumers aware and thinking about their firearm rights.”

Fifer didn’t try to hide his opportunism, adding that “If the political environment in this election year causes one or more strong spikes in demand, we may stretch our capital expenditures budget to take advantage of the opportunities presented.” In other words: Yes, the political fear mongering is purposeful, and yes, it is profitable.

Despite the silence and inaction, Democrats are pushing forward in their campaign to make progress on gun control. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced legislation that would ban anyone convicted of a hate crime from purchasing, possessing, or shipping a gun, marking the first proposed gun control legislation after the Orlando shootings.

Like other gun reform proposals, this one is common sense. According to an analysis by the Center for American Progress, 43,000 hate crimes committed in the United States involved the use or threat of a gun. And considering that the most recent one involved the slaughter of 49 people in a gay nightclub, or that the brutal shooting in Charleston, South Carolina resulted in 33 federal hate crime charges, there is ample need for the legislation.

Democrats are also expected to continue pushing for the renewal of the ban on assault rifles. Rep. Seth Moulton, an Iraq War veteran, penned an op-ed for Wednesday’s New York Daily News in which he advocated for the ban. “I know assault rifles,” Moulton tweeted. “I carried one in Iraq. They have no place on America’s streets.”

“I had to look at pictures of dead and mangled bodies in order to understand the magnitude of what it meant to pull that trigger,” he wrote.

President Obama joined presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — and nearly every Democrat in national politics — this week in reinforcing calls for a ban on assault rifles, which was in effect from 1994 to 2004.

The pressure to change laws is a popular one, too: A CBS poll conducted this week found that the percentage of Americans who support banning assault weapons jumped to 57 percent, from 44 percent in December. And a White House petition to ban the AR-15 from civilian use has tallied more than 157,000 signatures in three days.

Republicans continue to repeat the polarizing message that those on the left are trying to “take your guns away” — a useful slogan that doubles as ad copy for gun manufacturers.

Meanwhile, they stand in the way of reforms that are not only long overdue and hugely popular, but also the only sensible answer to a brutal problem that every other nation on earth has legislated out of existence.

 

By: Matt Tracy, The National Memo, June 15, 2016

June 17, 2016 Posted by | Democrats, Gun Control, Mass Shootings, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Running Out Of Excuses”: The NRA And Prominent Republicans Are… Considering Gun Control?

Faced with the tragic killing of 49 people in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, notable conservatives seem to be running out of excuses for why we need less gun control.

Bill O’Reilly surprised many on Tuesday when he said that new laws were “definitely needed” as a response to the Orlando shooting. After going after Democrats for not being tough enough of terrorism, O’Reilly conceded that gun crime is a problem in the U.S., and that guns are too easy to get.

“That’s the fact. So let’s deal with it. We all have the right to bear arms, but we don’t have the right to buy and maintain mortars. Even if you feel threatened by gangsters or a New World Order. No bazookas, no Sherman tanks, no hand grenades.”

“The FBI and other federal agencies need the power to stop suspected terrorists or other evildoers from buying weapons,” he said. “That law needs to be very precise.”

O’Reilly had a much different opinion last January, when President Obama announced a gun control executive action after the San Bernardino attack. “The truth is, terrorists are not going to submit themselves to background checks — neither are dangerous felons or insane people,” he said in his January 6 program. “They are not going to sign any paper when they buy a gun. Do we all get that? They will buy their guns on the black market. And no registration law will prevent that.”

Also on Tuesday, O’Reilly’s fellow Fox News host Gretchen Carlson had a change of heart about gun control in the aftermath of the Orlando tragedy.

“Do we need AR-15s to hunt and kill deer?” Carlson asked. “Do we need them to protect our families? Yes, I’m in favor of people being able to carry. I think some of these mass shootings would have been less deadly if that were the case. But I’m also with the majority today taking a stand. Can’t we hold true the sanctity of the Second Amendment while still having common sense?”

Perhaps most shocking, the National Rifle Association put out a statement on Wednesday saying the organization agrees that terrorists should not be allowed to buy firearms, and that they are “happy” to meet with the Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump to discuss the issue.

Oh yeah: Donald Trump announced he was meeting with the NRA, the strongest gun lobby in the world, to discuss keeping suspected militants away from guns.

I will be meeting with the NRA, who has endorsed me, about not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no fly list, to buy guns.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2016

“Anyone on a terror watchlist who tries to buy a gun should be thoroughly investigated by the FBI and the sale delayed while the investigation is ongoing. If an investigation uncovers evidence of terrorist activity or involvement, the government should be allowed to immediately go to court, block the sale, and arrest the terrorist,” the NRA’s statement read.

The NRA tweeted that this statement did not represent a change in their position, and that “due process protections should be put in place that allow law-abiding Americans who are wrongly put on a watchlist to be removed.”

 

By: Germania Rodriguez, The National Memo, June 15, 2016

June 17, 2016 Posted by | Gun Control, National Rifle Association, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“More Frequent Than You Might Think”: Do We Really Want To Lead The World In Toddler Shootings?

I remember last fall when I saw this article by Christopher Ingraham I hesitated to share it because it is so sad.

This week a 2-year-old in South Carolina found a gun in the back seat of the car he was riding in and accidentally shot his grandmother, who was sitting in the passenger seat. This type of thing happens from time to time: A little kid finds a gun, fires it, and hurts or kills himself or someone else. These cases rarely bubble up to the national level except when someone, like a parent, ends up dead.

But cases like this happen a lot more frequently than you might think. After spending a few hours sifting through news reports, I’ve found at least 43 instances this year of somebody being shot by a toddler 3 or younger. In 31 of those 43 cases, a toddler found a gun and shot himself or herself.

This week, Ingraham updated the numbers.

There have been at least 23 toddler-involved shootings since Jan. 1, compared with 18 over the same period last year.

In the vast majority of cases, the children accidentally shoot themselves. That’s happened 18 times this year, and in nine of those cases the children died of their wounds.

Toddlers have shot other people five times this year. Two of those cases were fatal: this week’s incident in Milwaukee, and that of a 3-year-old Alabama boy who fatally shot his 9-year-old brother in February.

I know we all despaired when even the shooting of 20 first and second graders in Newton wasn’t enough to unseat the power of the gun lobby in blocking the implementation of small steps towards common sense gun control. But are we really willing to be the world’s leader in toddler shootings?

Recently President Obama initiated one step in a process that could prevent these kinds of tragedies.

President Obama will use the power of his office to try to jump-start long-stalled “smart-gun” technology that could eventually allow only the owner of a firearm to use it, the White House announced Friday…

The administration stopped short of mandating the use of smart guns by federal agencies but said it saw promise in committing more federal money and attention to a technology that has evolved in fits and starts over more than two decades.

The idea behind the smart-gun technology is to limit the use of a firearm to its owner, through personalized identifiers like a biometric sensor on the gun grip, a ring sensor worn by the owner or a digital pass code entered on a wristband.

Advocates see the technology as a way of stopping criminals from using stolen guns — or children from accidentally shooting themselves or others.

In reporting on this, the Fox News headline reads: Obama set to push for ‘smart gun’ tech despite concerns. You might wonder about the source of those “concerns.”

The NRA does not oppose the technology. But in responding to the president’s controversial January executive action, the group’s Institute for Legislative Action said the private market, not the government, should drive its development.

“Although NRA is not opposed to the development of new firearms technology, we do not believe the government should be picking winners and losers in the marketplace,” the statement said.

While the administration may not be pushing an executive order mandating the purchase of smart guns, Second Amendment advocates fear a slippery slope.

There is no argument to be made here that this is an attempt by Obama to take away anyone’s guns. In light of that, the fallback position is to worry about a “slippery slope”…the case to be made when all else fails.

Second Amendment advocates can’t stop President Obama from pursuing the possibilities of this kind of technology. But in light of these numbers on toddler shootings, it actually blows my mind that they would even attempt to raise objections.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 3, 2016

May 4, 2016 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Deaths, Gun Lobby, Toddler Shootings | , , , , , | 2 Comments

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