Four reasons the Senate gun control bill may be kaput

The Senate is slated to vote Wednesday on nine gun control provisions, but prospects for passage for several – including expanding background checks to more gun buyers – look dim. Here's why.

Senate Television/AP
This video frame grab provided by Senate Television shows Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California using a poster of weapons as she speaks about gun legislation, Wednesday, on the floor of the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington. A bipartisan effort to expand background checks was in deep trouble Wednesday as the Senate approached a long-awaited vote on the linchpin of the drive to curb gun violence.

Dead on arrival. Deep trouble. Steep uphill path. In peril.

That’s what folks are saying about the gun bill the Senate considers Wednesday – a roster of nine amendments that include Democratic proposals to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips and to tighten laws against gun trafficking, as well as a bipartisan plan to expand background checks for gun buyers.

Even pro-gun control lawmakers determined to put on a good face are conceding that things are looking grim. 

“It’s a struggle,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York said Tuesday about winning support for the bill.

It's not for lack of trying. President Obama, shooting survivor and former US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and parents of Newtown, Conn., shooting victims have worked to drum up support. Vice President Joe Biden has been laboring to salvage the bill, the focus of which is the background-check plan drafted by Sens. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia and Patrick Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania.

Here are four reasons the gun bill is unlikely to clear the Senate.

Votes: Quite simply, the votes aren’t there. The gun bill needs 60 votes to pass, and so far the math isn’t adding up.

Three of the Senate's 55 Democrats – Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Max Baucus of Montana – said Monday they would not commit to backing the proposal. Ditto Dems Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

As for Republicans, only four of the Senate’s 45 have committed to voting for the bill, including Toomey (the bill’s co-sponsor), Mark Kirk of Illinois, Susan Collins of Maine, and John McCain of Arizona. (GOP Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Dean Heller of Nevada are still undecided.)

In fact, “of the 16 Republicans who crossed the aisle last week and voted with Democrats to begin a debate on gun control, 10 of them have now formally said they will vote against Manchin-Toomey,” reports Politico. They include Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

Senator Flake, who said Monday in a statement on his Facebook page that he would vote against the bill, was a big loss for proponents who were campaigning hard for his vote.

According to our political math, that leaves the gun bill with "yea" votes in the mid-50s – not enough to overcome a Republican filibuster.

Waning public support: The window of opportunity is slamming shut fast. That’s according to public opinion polls that show post-Newtown gun control momentum is fading. An April AP-GfK poll shows that a hair less than half of Americans now support stricter gun laws – 49 percent now, compared with 58 percent in January, a month after the December shooting of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

What’s more, 52 percent of Americans say they disapprove of how Mr. Obama has handled gun laws. You can bet lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are taking note. 

The National Rifle Association: You didn’t think the NRA would let this go, did you?

Reports Politico, “The National Rifle Association hasn’t budged, and it warned supporters of the compromise Senate bill – authored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) – that the group would remember their vote when they are next up for reelection.”


The gun rights group spent millions on ads opposing the proposals, including $500,000 on an online video ad on Washington, D.C.-area websites that reportedly shows law enforcement opposition to gun control proposals. “Tell your senator to listen to America's police, instead of listening to Obama and [New York Mayor Michael] Bloomberg,” the ad says.

Then there’s the matter of intensity. While public support for gun control legislation, especially expanded background checks, may remain relatively strong, there’s a significant disparity in the level of passion of voters on both sides of the issue – and lawmakers know this.

The NRA "cares about [gun rights] more than anybody else,” Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, told the Monitor last month. “That makes their minority viewpoint more important than the majority viewpoint. People often think within a democracy, numbers matter. But it's also intensity; intensity matters.”

That intensity translates into grass-roots action – and lawmakers' votes.

Stakes for individual states: When you pull away from the national conversation and consider the issue from the perspective of individual states – and their senators, some of whom will be up for reelection soon – the lack of support begins to make sense.

Consider this: In January of this year there were 44 gun homicides in Chicago, according to the National Journal. In all of 2011, there were 40 gun homicides in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont combined. 

“The political pressure for members of Congress from those states is much less than it would be for a senator from Illinois,” writes the National Journal.

And don’t forget that many lawmakers, on both sides of the aisle, hail from predominantly red states in the South and Mountain West, where guns are a way of life.

The bill is dead on arrival? Ask a senator from Utah or Kentucky and he would have told you that long ago.

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