The Senate Wednesday voted down a bipartisan amendment to gun legislation that would have expanded background checks for gun purchases. The Manchin-Toomey compromise fell short of the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster, gaining only 54 yeas from Democrats and four Republicans.
The defeat is a major one for President Barack Obama and the Senate Democratic leadership, who have made gun control their flagship campaign since the shooting in Newtown, Conn. last December. Here, the blogosphere analyzes the Senate vote, and discusses what it means for the future of gun control legislation:
M.S. of Democracy in America says it's hard to believe that even after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, legislators couldn't overcome the powerful gun lobby:
Four months after the massacre of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, the government decided today to do absolutely nothing to prevent future gun atrocities … The government decided to do nothing to stop gun atrocities because the political power of obsessive gun zealots with ignorant, hallucinatory political worldviews outweighed the reasonable public consensus that an overabundance of easily obtained guns has created a serious threat to Americans' public safety. The government decided to do nothing because of the political heft of Wayne LaPierre's NRA, because of the disproportionate one-man-thirty-votes congressional representation of rural districts, because of the electoral vulnerability of red-state Democratic senators, because of the decision by Republican senators to filibuster this and every Democratic bill
In a year and a half, gun-control advocates and gun-control foes will go back to the ballot boxes to try to break the congressional deadlock, each bearing the pictures of their martyrs. One side's martyrs are named Daniel, Madeleine, Noah and Avielle. The other side's martyrs are named Glock, Ruger, and Smith & Wesson. It will be interesting to see who the American people choose.
Chris Cillizza of The Fix says the vote made clear that if invoking Sandy Hook as a reason for gun control measures didn't work, there likely isn't any event that would spur action:
The inability of what happened in Newtown to move the gun debate in Congress forward in any meaningful way — the biggest "victory" for gun control advocates was that the bill got the requisite votes to be debated and amended on the Senate floor — suggests that there are no external events or tragedies that will fundamentally alter the political calculus of members of Congress when it comes to gun laws.
What Obama seemed to suggest in his remarks was that the next round of the fight as he sees it is the 2014 election where those who stood in the way of his package of gun control proposals would face the wrath of voters.
"To all the people who supported this legislation….you need to let your representatives in Congress know that you are disappointed and that if they don't act this time, you will remember come election time," Obama said.
Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas of Wonkblog don't blame the politics of the 2014 election on the bill's failure, but rather the structure of the Senate:
The gun vote didn't fail because a couple of red-state Democrats bolted, or even because too many senators are afraid of the National Rifle Association, or even because Sen. Pat Toomey couldn't bring along more Republicans.
Those factors help explain why the gun vote didn't clear the extraordinary bar set for it to succeed. But they're not the main reason it failed.
The gun vote failed because of the way the Senate is designed. It failed because the Senate wildly overrepresents small, rural states and, on top of that, requires a 60-vote supermajority to pass most pieces of legislation.
The Manchin-Toomey bill received 54 aye votes and 46 nay votes. That is to say, a solid majority of senators voted for it. In most legislative bodies around the world, that would have been enough. But it wasn't a sufficient supermajority for the U.S. Senate.
Of the senators from the 25 largest states, the Manchin-Toomey legislation received 33 aye votes and 17 nay votes — a more than 2:1 margin, putting it well beyond the 3/5ths threshold required to break a filibuster. But of the senators from the 25 smallest states, it received only 21 aye votes and 29 nay votes.
In response to the point made by Klein and Soltas, Ed Kilgore of Political Animal too says the structure of the Senate is fundamentally flawed, and led to the downfall of the legislation:
I would normally say "this has to change." But for this to change, the first step is for political actors and political media to recognize and draw attention to the problem. I noted late yesterday that in a long report on the Manchin-Toomey vote in The Hill, the words "filibuster" and "cloture" do not appear, even though the vote in question was actually on a motion for cloture to end a filibuster. The defeat of the measure by a Senate minority was treated as just the way things are done. That is what has to change first, before real change can come to the Senate. And frankly, any post-mortem on the failure of gun legislation, however well-meaning, that doesn't prominently mention the horrifically anti-democratic set-up of the current Senate is missing a crucial point.
Kevin Drum of Mother Jones writes that despite the public outcry following Newtown and the momentum it brought to gun control, the gun rights lobby was still able to maintain its grip on Washington:
Generic support for gun control fell from 78 percent to 44 percent over the past two decades. Over that time, the NRA persuaded the public that gun control was a bad idea, and it paid off for them today. The upward blip in support following the Sandy Hook massacre is probably fairly ephemeral, but even if it's not, 58 percent support just isn't enough to pass contentious legislation. You generally need two-thirds or more. Even 70 percent support in 1994 was only barely enough to pass a modest assault weapons ban.
That's the power of the NRA. They've worked hard to get the public on their side, and that brings politicians along automatically. They don't really need to threaten conservative senators to get their support because conservative senators already agree with them. That agreement is strong enough that even a watered-down background check bill with 90 percent public support can't overcome a filibuster, and renewal of the assault weapons ban is just flatly out of the question.
President Obama was right to call this "round one." This kind of thing is a long-term fight for public opinion, and only after you get the public firmly on your side do you have any real chance of passing serious legislation. So the question today for liberals is simple: Is this issue important enough to keep banging away on it for years on end, the way the NRA does? If not, nothing will ever happen.
But U.S. News & World Report's Robert Schlesinger writes that the victory may be a pyrrhic one for the NRA:
The NRA didn’t need to make this a fight. Given that the NRA used to support them, universal background checks can’t be that radical a threat to the Second Amendment. They could have read the polls and given a little ground. They could have accommodated the overwhelming will of the American people. Instead they chose the maximalist position and they scored a victory.
King Pyrrhus, who gave his name to the type of victory, is said to have commented after his signature event that “one other such would utterly undo him.” I somehow doubt NRA chief Wayne LaPierre made a similar comment yesterday, but time will remind him of King Pyrrhus’s lesson.
Allahpundit of Hot Air criticizes Obama for only politicizing the gun issue after his reelection, and said he can hardly blast senators for having an eye on their own political self-preservation:
Where was this supposedly righteous anger after Aurora? The victims in that case weren't small children, but that can't possibly explain O[bama]'s dramatically more subdued reaction after that shooting. They were innocent people too; many of them were young, if not kindergarteners. No angry Rose Garden press conferences freaking out about Senate inaction after Aurora, though. Any theories why? Anything, maybe, having to do with when that shooting happened vis-a-vis Newtown? Right: One of them came three months before a presidential election and the other came a month after. That's the difference. As you watch him point the finger here at supposedly gutless senators who care more about retaining public office than Doing Something, remember that there's hardly one among them who's as attuned to political self-preservation as O. He kept his mouth shut nice and tight about guns when it was his own ass on the line last year in purple states[.]
John Hayward of Red State says despite Obama's repeated resolve that gun control is not dead, the gun rights movement must continue to reject moves to tighten laws:
No matter the fate of Manchin-Toomey, or the final destination of the rickety Newtown Gun Control Express, this lesson can be remembered and applied to every expansion of the State. What government needs are openings, and they can be very small; it can squeeze vast amounts of its bulk through tiny cracks, with patient effort. Everything is always limited, controlled, and modest at first; each new power grab affects only a tiny handful of people. You can follow that trail of promises all the way back to the primordial days of the New Deal.
But once the initial concession is made, the next round of further concessions is demanded. The State demands everything plus the kitchen sink; "reasonable" people eager to "compromise" promptly rush forward with the kitchen sink in their hands, and congratulate themselves for driving a hard bargain. The answer must be a firm no, and it must not change the second, third, or fourth time the State and its worshipers repeat their demands. The only way to keep these "reasonable compromises" from quickly growing beyond the imagination of their supporters is to make them non-starters.
- Read Robert Schlesinger: Why Rand Paul Ignored the Southern Strategy at Howard University
- Read Lara Brown: Boston Bombings Reveal the Limits of Security
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