The Morning Plum: Joe Biden is right — the gun fight is far from over

Over the weekend, Joe Biden confirmed what those who are paying attention already knew: The battle over guns is far from over. In an op ed piece in the Houston Chronicle, he vowed that the White House would renew the push for expanded background checks. Biden cites polls showing that senators who voted against Manchin-Toomey are sliding, while those who voted for it have gotten a boost:

Today, those very senators are discovering that the political landscape really did change. They are learning that Newtown really did shock the conscience of the nation and that inaction will not be tolerated by Democrats, Republicans or independents.

And he predicts eventual victory:

In the end, I believe we will prevail. And those who wrote off gun safety legislation last month will come to realize that moment wasn’t the end at all. It was the turning point.

There’s no question that the defeat of Manchin-Toomey was a crushing one. But it needs to be restated that the gun control forces actually moved the ball significantly this year. There is now a bill — negotiated by “pro gun” Senators in both parties — that can be activated at a moment’s notice, one that has already won the support of a majority of the Senate. That is not nothing. And indeed, talks are currently underway among senators over how to tweak the legislation to win over holdouts that are still thought to be gettable.

All of that said, some caution is in order. If there is going to be any chance at eventual victory, it may well require a very long struggle, which will require gun reformers to show that they can sustain organization and energy for a protracted period. We’re seeing signs — in the form of groups launched by Mike Bloomberg and Gabrielle Giffords — that the gun reform side is genuinely in the process of building an infrastructure to match the NRA. But we don’t know what kind of staying power it will have or whether it will be able to exert pressure that actually matters to red state Dems (or for that matter bluish state Republicans such as Kelly Ayotte, who may be immune to pressure, because she is not playing to type as a New England moderate).

What’s more, no vote is scheduled on Manchin-Toomey in the near future. The simple truth is that there is no sign yet that any of the supposedly gettable senators are willing to flip, and until that happens, there won’t be any vote.

But the gun fight will continue, for a few reasons. First, by all indications, Obama and Harry Reid really want expanded background checks. That matters, and it makes it more likely that negotiators will find a way to reopen serious conservations with the holdouts.

Second, the Bloomberg and Gifford groups are determined to create a counter-balance to the NRA in order to be ready for the next time this issue comes up again. And history tells us that this issue always does come up again.

And third, even if the odds of eventual success are long, it is in the Democrats’ interest to continue pushing the issue publicly – if not with an eye towards 2014, then with an eye towards 2016. Senators such as Ayotte and Rob Portman (who also voted against Manchin-Toomey) are up for reelection in 2016 in states that will have boosted turnout among Dem constituencies in a presidential year. Given the changing nature of the Dem coalition, gun violence is taking on increasing importance among core Dem voter groups. There’s also the 2016 presidential race to consider. As Ron Brownstein recently put it in a piece arguing that Dems have an interest in continuing to press the issue: “after years in which gun-control has been sublimated as a political issue, support for expanding background checks and possibly further steps has again become a political norm in almost all of the blue-leaning states that underpin the recent Democratic advantage in the race for the White House.”

The politics of guns really are different for Democrats than they have been in recent years. Whether that results in eventual success remains to be seen, but the battle will, in fact, continue.

* Gang of Eight gears up immigration strategy: Politico reports:

Senate immigration negotiators are targeting as many as two dozen Republicans  for a show-of-force majority — which they believe may be the only way a reform  bill will have the momentum to force the House to act. Reform proponents are looking for votes far beyond the usual moderate  suspects to senators in conservative bastions such as Utah, Georgia and Wyoming. The senators landed on the list because they’re retiring, representing  agricultural states, anxious to get the issue behind the party, important to  persuading skittish House Republicans or all of the above.

Immigration reform probably needs to get the support of at least 70 Senators — not just because this will help pressure House GOP leaders to act on the compromise proposal, but also because it will increase pressure on them to allow it to pass mostly with Democratic support, if necessary.

* Guantanamo nightmare partly Obama’s fault: Doyle McManus has a good piece reporting out all the things Obama could be doing right now to address the continuing legal limbo that reins at Guantanamo. As McManus notes, it’s true that some Republicans are likely to politicize any move to transfer detainees. But that’s not a good reason not to begin solving the problem — after all, as Obama himself has acknowledged, the current situation is unsustainable.

* The real fiscal record of conservative presidents: It’s often argued that those who want to defer paying down debt until the economy is stronger don’t actually have any intention of ever addressing our fiscal problems. Paul Krugman sets the record straight with a  reminder of which presidents actually have a good fiscal record and which don’t:

The key measure you want to look at is the ratio of debt to G.D.P., which measures the government’s fiscal position better than a simple dollar number. And if you look at United States history since World War II, you find that of the 10 presidents who preceded Barack Obama, seven left office with a debt ratio lower than when they came in. Who were the three exceptions? Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes. So debt increases that didn’t arise either from war or from extraordinary financial crisis are entirely associated with hard-line conservative governments…The funny thing is that right now these same hard-line conservatives declare that we must not run deficits in times of economic crisis.

As always, GOP concern about the deficit is highly selective and seems designed to provide a rationale for not spending to alleviate unemployment and for gutting the safety net.

* A silly “gun rights” talking point: Jill Lawrence does a nice job debunking the brain dead “background checks wouldn’t have stopped Newtown” talking point. As Lawrence puts it: “arguments like that ignore the fact that Step X – whether it’s expanded background checks or other proposals before Congress — might well have helped prevent or mitigate some horrendous past incident, and could spare us future tragedies.”

This is a broad problem that requires a multitude of solutions. It’s amazing that even needs to be stated, but again, the “gun rights” side has proven exceptionally good at constructing arguments designed solely to confuse and obfuscate what’s actually being proposed and debated.

* “Gun rights” brigade clings to story of Georgia shooting: Meanwhile, the “gun rights” brigade continues to make much of the story of a Georgia woman who protected her children with a .38, which she emptied into an intruder who subsequently took off.  What’s not clear, however, is how, exactly, this case is relevant to the expanded background check proposal that’s actually being debated, or how Manchin-Toomey would impact the right of the law abiding to guns and to self defense.

* Gun reform advocates must focus on the states:  California has just put in place a law that will facilitate confiscation of guns from some 20,000 who bought them legally but later became prohibited people because of a violent crime conviction, a domestic violence restraining order, or a designation of mental illness.

Such state-level action is a reminder of how comparatively paralyzed Congress is when it comes to acting to protect Americans from gun violence by criminals and the dangerously mentally ill. Gun control advocates must stay focused on states, where the “gun rights” side is relentlessly moving to loosen restrictions.

* And could a Mark Sanford win help Democrats? The Fix crew makes the case that even if Mark Sanford wins tomorrow’s special House election in South Carolina, it will force House Republicans to distance themselves from revelations of his trespassing in his ex-wife’s house, potentially renewing the narrative that the GOP has a “woman problem.”

What else?

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