May 3, 2013

The president’s push for expanded background checks failed, but that doesn’t mean the push for gun control is over — far from it. The defeat of Manchin-Toomey was only round one in what will likely be a long battle to build a new constituency for stricter gun laws to reduce the country’s persistent gun violence.

To wit, Politico reports this morning that Vice President Joe Biden-who will appear tonight at a South Carolina Democratic dinner-plans to take “trips around the country to stump for the expanded background checks and gun trafficking laws that failed to pass the Senate last month.”

In particular, he will travel to the home states of Senators Kelly Ayotte, Max Baucus, Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowsi, each of whom has seen a precipitous drop in their approval rating since voting against background checks. Baucus is retiring next year, and Ayotte and Murkowski aren’t up for reelection until 2016. But Begich is running next year, and might be vulnerable to immediate pressure. Even Ayotte has something to worry about — she will run for a second term during a presidential election, where Democratic voters are energized and more numerous. At some point, she will have to appeal to non-Republicans.

And that will mean distancing herself from a National Rifle Association that has walked further and further into the waters of extremism.

Take the new president of the NRA—Jim Porter—who casually describes the Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression,” a label almost exclusively reserved for neo-Confederates and their sympathizers. Does Ayotte really want to be tied to him and his group when it comes time for reelection?

To be clear, there’s no indication of an imminent push for new laws. The administration it seems, is taking its time. The important point, however, is that this isn’t a finished issue. It took decades for the National Rifle Association to build the power and clout necessary to intimidate politicians and kill any new gun regulations. Gun control advocates are effectively at the beginning of their push, and it will take time before they have comparable advantages on their side. If Biden’s rhetoric tells us anything, it’s that this is very much still the beginning.

Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes a blog.