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Why Democrats relent on gun issues

They’ve allowed concealed-carry weapons in national parks, considered easing gun restrictions in the District of Columbia, and turned back a campaign pledge on gun-record transparency.

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“In fact, gun control is likely to continue, post-Heller, to be a losing issue politically [for Democrats] and red meat for the Republicans,” says Mr. Levy.

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At the end of the day, Democrats simply aren’t going to risk their majority over this issue – at least not yet, experts say.

“The price Democrats had to pay to make their majority was to welcome a number of members of rural districts into their ranks,” says Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report. “The issue of guns to most Democrats is a molehill compared to the mountain of healthcare and climate change.”

Yet some notable Democrats have made statements this spring promising to curtail gun rights. Those individuals include Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.

The tensions between some Democrats are apparent. Take two New York lawmakers: Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband, Dennis, was killed in a mass shooting on a Long Island commuter train in 1993, and recently appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, whose record is largely pro-gun. Representative McCarthy has vowed to defeat Senator Gillibrand in the next election if she doesn’t shift her stance.

In fact, 27 Democrats in the Senate voted in favor of the amendment to the credit-card bill that expands gun rights in national parks. Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma, who offered the amendment, told Congressional Quarterly that it was “not going to be a piece of cake” for Democrats to forestall GOP amendments – particularly, as CQ wrote, “on issues, such as guns, that divide the Democratic Caucus."

What could be ahead

Given their recent successes, Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats, and the NRA will probably continue to push for more gun rights expansion, many experts believe. One possibility: attaching to a bill a concealed-carry measure for college campuses.

Whether that will play to the Democrats’ favor if they oppose it, or whether it will, in essence, flush vulnerable rural Democrats into the open to target in the next election will be the big question.

“The NRA and gun rights folks will keep pushing as long as there’s give in the process,” says Philip Cook, a Duke economist and co-author of “Gun Violence: The Real Costs.” “They’ll be demanding airline passengers and elementary school teachers be allowed to carry guns. At some point, the Democrats are going to have to take a stand.”