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Opinion

Surprise: The NRA has actually lost influence on gun control

In the wake of the tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona, earlier this month, the calls for gun-control legislation have already begun. But the National Rifle Association's traditional ability to shoot these bills down may be significantly reduced in the future.

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In the past, (now defeated) Democrats like Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota or Brad Ellsworth of Indiana could use NRA endorsements to win over those single-issue independent voters whose mantra was “guns über alles” (guns above everything else).

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Today, such voters are mostly committed Republicans. They won’t vote for a Sandlin or an Ellsworth just because of an NRA endorsement.

The price of partisan support

And if they can’t get any votes by stopping gun laws, then Democrats have to consider how many votes might be gained by supporting sane, popular gun-control legislation such as limits on assault weapons, closing the gun show sale loophole, and the administration’s plan to force gun stores to report multiple long-gun sales, just as they do with handguns.

Why, Democrats might even support legislation to make it as hard for terrorists to buy guns as it is for them to board planes! Or go back to the law we had from 1994 to 2004 that limited the size of magazines sold. The Arizona shooter was stopped as he reloaded; with a magazine only half the size, many now wounded or dead might have escaped unhurt.

The Democrats have been unable to unite behind any of these bills for years for one simple reason. Many of their leaders believed that gun control cost the party the 2000 presidential election, since pro-gun voters in Tennessee turned on favorite son Al Gore to punish him for the Clinton assault weapons ban.

However true that was then, the lesson of 2010 for Democrats was that the NRA doesn’t deliver for Democrats anymore.

Don't expect much gun-control legislation anytime soon. Historically, it takes at least a few years after a massacre or assassination to get sensible laws passed. Certainly, there’ll be no progress on gun control while the House is in Republican hands.

But the next time the Democrats have both houses of Congress and the White House, expect real gun control to move for the first time in years.

Arizona shooting: Seven times politics turned to threats or violence last year

When an interest group’s supporters only rally to politicians of one political party, that interest group’s fortunes rise and fall with that party.

Just ask the AFL-CIO.

Jeremy D. Mayer is an associate professor in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University.

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