January 9, 2013

Two quick notes on what you should be watching for in the upcoming gun control fight.

1) Congressional Democrats are going to need a tremendous amount of outside backing from the left when this fight gets going. As Evan McMorris-Santoro notes, the coming gun battle has already produced one contentious town hall meeting held by a House Democrat in California, where gun control opponents gave him a real earful. As anyone familiar with the history of gun control well knows, one of the key advantages the gun “rights” side has is the speed and intensity of activism it’s able to mobilize against new gun regulations.

While it’s true that the NRA’s influence is often overstated, it’s also true that the NRA has a long history of skillfully mobilizing extreme constituent pressure on individual members of Congress at a moment’s notice, and making their lives pretty hellish in the process. So what we very well may see here is something akin to rerun of the 2009 health care town hall wars, only about guns — perhaps an even more emotional issue. So groups like the new one started by Gabrielle Giffords won’t be important just in trying to match the NRA’s donations to Congress; they’ll also be critical in determining whether Congressional Dems will be given support and reinforcements when the NRA-fomented pressure starts in earnest.

2) Joe Biden vowed today that the White House was prepared to use executive actions to push through gun law reforms without the cooperation of Congress. Biden didn’t tell us what those might be, but this is interesting, because it’s a reminder that a lot of the outcome here will turn on the legislative strategy the White House and Democrats settle on.

Along those lines, one idea that you may be hearing more about soon is the possibility of introducing separate gun control measures as individual bills, rather than as a whole package. Individual members of Congress have already introduced, or are planning to introduce, measures to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines (Dianne Feinstein), to close the gun show loophole and improve the background check system (Frank Lautenberg), and improving law enforcement’s ability to crack down on illegal gun trafficking (Kirsten Gillibrand).

It’s not impossible that the White House, when it releases its package of reforms, will opt to introduce such measures separately. The virtue of that is it makes it easier to highlight the popularity of individual measures (some of the above ideas have strong majority support) and harder to dismiss (unlike one massive legislative package) as a frightful Big Government usurpation of freedom. So keep an eye out for discussion of that.

All, in all, an epic battle lies ahead. Dems will need a lot of smarts, a lot of backbone, and a lot of outside support.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.