January 30, 2013

The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre is set to testify today before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In what will prove a compelling bit of theater, Gabrielle Giffords will deliver opening remarks. Here, with the help of the Brady Center’s Jon Lowy, are five questions I hope LaPierre will be asked:

1) A recent poll showed that nine in 10 Americans, and even eight in 10 NRA members, support universal background checks. Other polls have contained similar findings. Given that your organization spends huge amounts of member dues lobbying against regulations such as this, how can you credibly claim to represent your rank and file membership? Doesn’t this prove that the NRA is little more than a lobbying arm for the multi-billion-dollar gun industry?

2) Under current law, would-be buyers of guns are widely subjected to background checks. Is it your view that these current checks are unconstitutional? If so, then how? If not, then how exactly would expanding the current background check system infringe on the rights of the law abiding?

3) Your organization repeatedly claims that the push to expand background checks would create a national federal gun registry, with the aim of confiscating guns. But current law actually prohibits the creation of such a list, and mandates that information collected in the process of green-lighting legal transfers be destroyed. And the current proposal to expand the system doesn’t change this. So isn’t your claim simply a lie?

4) Many law enforcement groups support the proposed assault weapons ban, the ban on high capacity magazines, and expanded background checks. Why should we take the word of the NRA over that of our brave and hard working law enforcement professionals when it comes to how best to ensure the safety of police officers on the front lines and of the American public?

5) You recently said: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Are you willing to support any new laws of any kind to prevent the “bad guy” from getting a gun in the first place?

* New polling on Obama’s mainstream Inaugural Address: Obama’s speech laid out an expansive progressive agenda, which led many commentators and Republicans to claim he was only speaking to the Dem base. Turns out, though, that the American mainstream liked the speech: A new Post poll finds that 51 percent of Americans approved of it, versus only 24 percent who disapproved.

And moderates approved of the speech by 55-20. Meanwhile, Obama’s favorability ratings are up to 60 percent. Seems the progressive agenda, as outlined by Obama, is perceived as mainstream, after all!

* Drop in government spending hurts GDP? Today’s GDP report was awful (the economy contracted by 0.1 percent), but Joe Weisenthal argues it can be blamed on the drop in government spending. From the report:

Real federal government consumption expenditures and gross investment decreased 15.0 percent in the fourth quarter, in contrast to an increase of 9.5 percent in the third.  National defense decreased 22.2 percent, in contrast to an increase of 12.9 percent.  Nondefense increased 1.4 percent, compared with an increase of 3.0 percent.  Real state and local government consumption expenditures and gross investment decreased 0.7 percent, in contrast to an increase of 0.3 percent.

Obviously that’s not the message conservatives will take from this report. More austerity now!

 * GOP Senator supportive of universal background checks? This New York Times article wrongly implies that getting universal background checks would somehow be nothing more than a consolation prize, when in fact it’s the top priority of gun control advocates, and is in some ways more important than the assault weapons ban. But this represents a bit of movement:

“I was a co-sponsor of a conceal carry bill in Nebraska that had a significant background check component,” said Senator Deb Fischer, a newly elected Republican from Nebraska.

The question is whether she would support expanding the background check system in isolation. Yesterday Paul Ryan had some very positive words for the idea, which suggests the possibility that House GOP leaders might bring it to a vote.

* Second GOP Senator supportive of background checks? I’d missed this one, but Reuters quotes GOP Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona this way: “We all recognize the need for more effective background checks.” As always, the question remains whether he’d support actual policies to accomplish that, but this, too, is movement.

* Debunking a silly “gun rights” talking point: The “gun rights” brigade loves to point out that Chicago has strict gun laws but also a high level of gun deaths, as if this undermines the case for federal action. But as this New York Times article details, the reality is that many of the guns come from outside Chicago, from places with lax gun laws, and in fact the case of Chicago presents an argument for gun law reform, and not against it. This gets to the heart of it:

“Chicago is not an island,” said David Spielfogel, senior adviser to [Mayor Rahm] Emanuel. “We’re only as strong as the weakest gun law in surrounding states.”

* Debunking another silly “gun rights” talking point: Glenn Kessler absolutely demolishes the recent claim by Mitch McConnell’s campaign that expanding background checks would create a “federal gun registration scheme” that will lead to “full scale confiscation.” This is a fun irony: “McConnell was directly responsible for enacting legislation that greatly limits the ability of the federal government to create a federal registry.”

More broadly, you’ll be hearing this lie again today from LaPierre, since it’s also a favorite of the NRA.

* Hagel picks up backing of GOP Senator: Many Senators are still claiming they are undecided on Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary, but at least one GOP Senator, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, has now said he will support him. Dick Durbin has already noted no Dems are saying they’ll vote against him, so he only needs a handful of GOPers to gain confirmation, which — pending his hearing on Thursday — looks increasingly likely.

* And the Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop lives! I’ve been writing here about the Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop in the context of Paul Krugman’s running argument with Joe Scarborough, and Krugman explains the phenomenon in a new way:

Back during the early days of the Iraq debacle, I learned that the military has a term for how highly dubious ideas become not just accepted, but viewed as certainties. “Incestuous amplification” happens when a closed group of people repeat the same things to each other – and when accepting the group’s preconceptions itself becomes a necessary ticket to being in the in-group.

What else?

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