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Democrats still aren’t being ruthless about gun control

Democrats say Republicans will pay a price in the 2014 election for their opposition to popular gun-cuntrol measures.

But even for many in the Democratic caucus, gun control still isn't a litmus-test issue. Democrats, quite simply, continue to be very accommodating to pro-gun Democrats -- even when they don't need to be -- and that bodes ill for any effort to revive the gun debate.

Former congressman Joe Baca (D-Calif.), right, speaks as now-Secretary of State John Kerry looks on. (AP)

For a near-perfect example of this phenomenon, take former congressman Joe Baca (D-Calif.).

Baca, who sports an 'A' rating from the NRA, was unseated in November by another Democrat -- in large part because of the $3 million dropped on his head by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's (I) Independence USA super PAC, which targeted several pro-gun-rights candidates.

He is seeking a return to Congress in a neighboring district -- a district that just happens to be the most Democratic-leaning district currently held by a Republican (Rep. Gary Miller). In the race with Baca and Miller is another Democrat, Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, who has the early backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Baca has long supported gun rights, and as recently as 10 months ago said he opposed new gun measures after the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. Aguilar is a gun-control supporter who belongs to another Bloomberg-founded group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Yet on Friday, 30 of the 201 Democratic members of the House announced they have endorsed Baca.

Even in (arguably) the most winnable district in the country for Democrats -- a district that went 57 percent for President Obama and is the only GOP seat listed as a "toss-up" by the Cook Political Report -- many in the House Democratic caucus are backing the same guy the NRA has backed.

Included on that list of 30 endorsers are 11 Democrats who have co-sponsored the House's proposed ban on high-capacity magazines, six Democrats who support the proposed assault weapons ban, and nine who support new background check legislation. (All of those bills have been proposed by New York Democrat Carolyn McCarthy but have yet to come up for a vote.)

Five of the 30 are co-sponsors of all three bills: Reps. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) and Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), who until this year represented Aurora.

None of this is to say there is anything wrong with members endorsing their former colleague or someone they disagree with on a given issue. It happens all the time, and personal relationships often trump all else in politics. But it's a great example of how many in the Democratic Party quite simply aren't being ruthless about gun control.

The gun-control effort has gained some key allies (and financial backing) in groups launched by Bloomberg and former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and her husband, Mark Kelly. And Democrats are fond of pointing out that 90 percent of Americans supported increased background checks.

But the fact that even strong supporters of gun control -- Bishop, Capuano, Cohen, Perlmutter and Serrano -- are endorsing Baca shows that the party is still somewhat squishy on the issue.

You quite simply would not see 30 Republicans supporting a pro-gun-control Republican -- former colleague or not -- unless maybe it was a deep blue area (think Sen. Mark Kirk in Illinois). But this is an eminently winnable district for Democrats where they could clearly elect someone who supports gun control.

Until Democrats start being more like Republicans on this issue, it's unlikely they'll get the outcome they want.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.

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