Joe Biden is set to meet with the National Rifle Association today, and pessimism remains rampant about the possibility of real action on guns. Surely the House GOP leadership won’t allow a vote on the final package introduced by the White House. Surely GOP Senators will filibuster it. The conventional wisdom is that history and precedent argue against any kind of success.
What’s missing from the debate, however, is this: History and precedent actually argue that the current push could have some success, though it will be very difficult to achieve. Gun laws have passed in the wake of horrific acts of gun carnage, such as the Gun Control Act of 1968, which passed after the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. High profile gun violence victims such as Gabrielle Giffords (who unveiled a new effort this week) really have transformed the debate, as Jim Brady did in the lead up to passage of the Brady bill. Republicans have supported gun control in the past, such as the Assault Weapons Ban in 1994. E.J. Dionne provides an important reminder:
Before you give up hope, it’s worth remembering that in 1994, 38 House Republicans supported the assault-weapons ban on a roll call in May, and 46 supported the crime bill, which included the ban, that eventually passed later in the year.
Yes, the GOP is very different now, more conservative and more dominated by Southern and rural voices. But key Republican senators, including Mark Kirk, John McCain and Dan Coats, have been willing to back reasonable gun laws in the past. The GOP’s House majority includes 12 members from New York and New Jersey, 13 from Pennsylvania, 44 from the Midwestern states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin, and 20 from the West Coast.
A large share of these Republicans, particularly those from the Northeast, are growing impatient with the extent to which their party’s image is being shaped by the wishes and opinions of its most right-wing members, many of them from one-party districts in the South. Suburban Republicans especially need to declare their independence from viewpoints antithetical to those held by the vast majority of their constituents.
That last point is critical. It is a simple fact that large majorities of even Republicans support specific gun law reforms. A recent CNN poll found that 97 percent of Republicans support background checks on all gun buyers; 60 percent of Republicans support a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons; and 61 percent of Republicans support a ban on high capacity magazines.
The gun control debate is looming as a major test for moderate Republicans (such as they are these days). Are they serious about bucking the notion that the GOP is increasingly becoming the party of aging, southern white guys? If so, then perhaps a handful of them can start by supporting sensible gun law reforms that are supported by a vast majority of Americans, in the wake of the slaughter of 20 children.
No question, the history also tells us that this will be a major, uphill battle, and that the prospects for disappointment remain great. As Dionne notes, we’re not dealing with your father’s GOP here. But perhaps a few Republicans can be induced to resist current trends, rather than allow the gun control fight to represent yet another step in the increasing southernization of the GOP.
* Left wing populism is ascendant in American politics: A must read from Tom Edsall on how the emerging “coalition of the downscale” that lifted Obama and Democrats to victory portends what may turn into a genuinely serious challenge to inequality and the power of corporate America. If Edsall is right, then all the sneering at the populist message of Occupy Wall Street — not to mention Obama’s reelection message — is looking awfully misguided.
The question, though, is whether this moment will translate into the consolidation of genuine policy gains in the direction of reversing inequality — and in this sense, a tremendous amount is riding on final shape of the coming “grand bargain.”
* Is the “platinum coin” a viable option? I’m skeptical that the White House really left the door open yesterday to using it. But Joe Weisenthal makes a strong case that the massive amount of media coverage claiming the White House did leave the door open could alone have a palpable impact on the debate.
* Eric Holder is coming for your guns: The Hill has a good piece detailing that the Attorney General is getting directly involved in the gun control push, which is interesting, because it’s another sign the administration may be serious about trying to accomplish at least some gun reform without Congress. Remember, the Justice Department has already looked at some ideas it could implement.
Also: Can you imagine a worse nightmare for the right than Holder — who has a history of pursuing strict gun controls and is already a hated figure on the right thanks to “Fast and Furious” — playing a key role in Obama’s gun push?
* Time for specific executive actions on guns: David Firestone details the steps the President could take right now, including improving the federal database for background checks, insisting that states share more information with the feds about criminals and the mentally ill, and appointing a permanent director to the ATF.
* Gun control forces gearing up major public relations push: It’s good to see that the White House and its allies in the gun fight are drawing up plans for a major national grassroots campaign to rally public opinion behind gun law reform.
As noted here yesterday, one key to making this work is to focus hard on selling specific individual reforms, such as beefing up the background check system, to prevent the “gun rights” forces from caricaturing these efforts as a massive Big Government seizure of America’s guns.
* Gun control forces need to sharpen their message: Charles Blow has some advice:
Stop calling groups like the National Rifle Association a “gun rights” group. These are anti-regulation, pro-proliferation groups. They prey on public fears — of the “bad guys with guns,” of a Second Amendment rollback, of an ever imminent apocalypse — while helping gun makers line their pockets.
Also: Continue working to isolate the NRA as way out of the American mainstream when it comes to its opposition to even the most modest and sensible gun law reforms.
* Gabrielle Giffords wants to raise $20 million: Her new PAC has set a target goal of raising $20 million to spend in the 2014 midterm elections. That’s a pretty big deal: The group really could emerge as a counterweight to the NRA. The measure of success she has will be a good indicator of the degree to which the political climate has shifted in a real way.
* And the left pushes Barney Frank for Senate: MoveOn’s petition calling on Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to appoint Barney Frank interim Senator to replace John Kerry has quickly generated over 6,400 signatures, a sign that the national liberal base really wants a fighter alongside Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts.