After Senate defeats, prospects for gun control shift to states

The failure of the Senate to pass even gun control measures that had overwhelming public support signals that the clout of the gun lobby is powerful enough to block reform on Capitol Hill.

Evan Vucci/AP
Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) of Arizona (c.), is escorted in the hallway outside the Senate chamber to rally support for gun control legislation before the start of Senate votes Wednesday. Giffords, who was badly wounded in a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., met with Democratic senators at a private lunch, but failed to turn enough votes to prevail.

Following a dramatic defeat in Wednesday’s Senate vote on a raft of gun control provisions, a defiant President Obama and his posse of gun control advocates are vowing to press on – but the way forward is more likely to be off Capitol Hill, in state houses and legislatures.

Wednesday’s gun defeat was a grim chapter for gun control advocates and – if the Senate’s vote was any indication – future prospects for gun control legislation in Congress appear grimmer. 

Each of the seven amendments voted on Wednesday failed (two more are scheduled for Thursday), including Mr. Obama’s centerpiece effort and the bipartisan proposal with overwhelming public support, expanded background checks. The quashing of that provision “likely marks the end of the entire effort in the Senate,” reports NBC News.

Even more telling was the fate of the least controversial piece of legislation, a measure to crack down on gun trafficking, which had the support of the National Rifle Association and was expected to pass with just a voice vote. That too, failed.

The disappointment in Washington was palpable.

Flanked by visibly grieved relatives of Newtown, Conn., shooting victims, Obama called it “a pretty shameful day for Washington.”

Shooting survivor and former US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) of Arizona penned an angry opinion article in The New York Times claiming that senators “gave into fear and blocked common-sense legislation.”

And yet, the outcome shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone. While polls trumpet overwhelming public support for increased gun controls, it came down to politics, where the NRA is the kingmaker and lawmakers, especially those in rural states, reliably fall into line.

As pundits parsing the bill’s death have pointed out in their post-mortems, to expect the vote to have gone otherwise is a bald misjudgment and underestimation of the influence of the gun lobby on skittish red-state lawmakers.

The quashing of the gun bill, the Times reports, was a simple “combination of the political anxiety of vulnerable Democrats from conservative states, deep-seated Republican resistance, and the enduring clout of the National Rifle Association.”

What now for gun control? Is there a way forward?

For now, it appears that congressional leaders have conceded defeat.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada is expected to pull the entire bill from the Senate floor and move on to issues with better prospects – namely, immigration and an Internet sales tax provision.

Nonetheless, it may not be the end of the road for gun control advocates. The next front in the battle for gun control? The states.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, “even as federal legislation runs into the brick wall of the gun lobby, some states and local jurisdictions are forging ahead.”

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) expanded bans on assault weapons and further limited the size of ammunition magazines, as well as enacted measures to recertify gun licenses and identify mentally ill people who seek to buy weapons.

Ditto Colorado and Connecticut, both of which have seen their own grisly mass shootings and responded with tougher gun laws.

In March, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed into law several bills requiring background checks for private and online gun sales, as well as legislation banning ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds. And in April, the Connecticut state legislature passed laws banning the sale of gun magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds, requiring background checks for private gun sales, including those at gun shows, as well as expanding the state's current assault weapons ban to include more than 100 gun models.

At least eight other states are considering tougher gun laws, including Oregon, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland.

Still, national gun control leaders insist they are not throwing in the towel.

“This effort is not over,” Obama said in remarks after the gun bill’s defeat. “I see this as just Round 1.”

Reiterated Senator Reid, “I want everyone to understand – this is just the beginning. This is not the end.”

Not everyone is so confident.

“I’m not sure what more the president can do, having persuaded 90 percent of the American public to support the heart of this bill, which is background checks,” Sen. Christopher Murphy (D) of Connecticut, a major gun control proponent, told Roll Call. “The fact is, senators are simply not listening to their constituents. And I’m not sure what more the president can do.”

Speaking of confident, let’s not forget the gun lobby, for whom Wednesday’s vote was a quiet victory – and if they have their way, the end of the road for federal gun control.

Said Michael Hammond, legislative counsel for the Virginia-based Gun Owners of America, to The New York Times: “We feel confident this will spell the end of gun control for the 113th Congress.”

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of 5 free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.