Democrats take on the gun lobby

Two days ago, president Obama laid out a new set of orders that he has issued on gun control. Here are the details of the measures. Since Congress is largely the captive of the NRA and refuses to countenance imposing even the slightest restrictions on gun availability, he has decided to implement them using executive orders. Although the measures are modest and reasonable, as could have been predicted, Republicans, the gun lobby, and others who think that there should be no restrictions at all are having a fit and denouncing Obama’s executive orders as more signs of his dictatorial tendencies and the first step in a plan to strip all Americans of their guns.

Other more measured responses point out that these new measures would not have prevented the recent mass killers from obtaining the weapons they needed to commit their atrocities and that hence these actions are largely political theater. That is not the complete story. These measures may not have prevented the recent mass killings and definitely will not stop all gun violence but will help to reduce the overall number of gun deaths.

But given that these actions will have limited effect, why is Obama doing this with great fanfare?

What I think is happening is that this is less of a major attempt to prevent guns falling into wrong hand and more the beginning of an assault on the NRA’s power and its air of seeming invincibility. While the majority of Americans favor increased background checks on gun purchasers and that the laws covering the sale of firearms be made more strict, the NRA is opposed to any such measures and they have cowed Republicans and most members of Congress into thinking that if they support any gun control measures at all, the NRA has the power to defeat them at the next elections.

What yesterday’s moves suggest is that Obama is calling that bluff and throwing down the gauntlet to the NRA and explicitly said so in his press briefing.

So all of us need to demand a Congress brave enough to stand up to the gun lobby’s lies. All of us need to stand up and protect its citizens. All of us need to demand governors and legislatures and businesses do their part to make our communities safer. We need the wide majority of responsible gun owners who grieve with us every time this happens and feel like your views are not being properly represented to join with us to demand something better. (Applause.)

And we need voters who want safer gun laws, and who are disappointed in leaders who stand in their way, to remember come election time. (Applause.)

I mean, some of this is just simple math. Yes, the gun lobby is loud and it is organized in defense of making it effortless for guns to be available for anybody, any time. Well, you know what, the rest of us, we all have to be just as passionate. We have to be just as organized in defense of our kids. This is not that complicated. The reason Congress blocks laws is because they want to win elections. And if you make it hard for them to win an election if they block those laws, they’ll change course, I promise you. (Applause)

The NRA is undoubtedly a powerful lobby and has become a menace to the general welfare. It must be defeated or at least its reputation for being able to take down any opponent has to be dented. It is interesting that Democrats seem to be choosing to aggressively run on this anti-NRA platform.

Yet at the beginning of a year that Democrats hope will end with Hillary Clinton’s election as president and their party winning back control of the Senate, the party believes Obama’s actions will help it send the political message that Republicans are blocking common-sense reforms that would reduce the number of mass killings in the country.

“If you’re a Democratic congressional candidate running in the House or Senate, it makes a great argument about how unresponsive Congress is and how beholden Congress is to special interest groups like the [National Rifle Association],” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon.

Party strategists believe a seemingly ever-escalating spate of mass shootings in recent years has shifted the politics of the issue.

But as a test of the NRA’s strength will depend on whether this is a strong enough single-issue to be the major factor sway people in how they vote or whether it will be one among many.


  1. moarscienceplz says

    But as a test of the NRA’s strength will depend on whether this is a strong enough single-issue to be the major factor sway people in how they vote or whether it will be one among many.

    I’m not at all sure hurting the NRA is the real motivation here. I think the Dems are counting on a good turnout of liberals and moderates for the presidential election. If they can highlight the ways the GOP is increasingly out of step with the majority of Americans, not only gun control but healthcare, climate change, and income inequality, they might be able to knock more Republicans out of Congress and the state houses.

  2. kyoseki says

    Well, it’s worth remembering that the vast majority of gun owners in this country aren’t NRA members, there are something like 75m gun owners in the US and only around 5m of them are in the NRA.

    Unfortunately, most of that 5m are single issue voters.

    Most gun control proponents aren’t single issue voters, they’re not willing to vote against otherwise sensible/effective politicians purely because of their gun control stance (or lack thereof), even Bernie Sanders has been criticized for being weak on gun control, but a lot of people would still happily vote for him.

    That’s not the case with the core “gun rights” crowd, they’ve elevated the 2nd amendment to paramount importance, they’ll vote against anyone who dares to threaten their guns, based on some ludicrous concept of freedom, they’ll happily vote away every right except the right to bear arms whilst happily chirping the trope “the right to bear arms protects all of our other rights!”.

    Since these guys invariably vote the way the NRA/other gun rights groups tell them to (the NRA is REALLY effective at manufacturing hysteria, it’s one of their primary fundraising tools), that makes them an effective political force, particularly given their geographic distribution -- there’s going to be a lot more NRA members in red states where they can control who gets elected to congress in those states.

    Of course, the gun control side isn’t doing themselves any favors, they seem to be a fractious bunch with different groups clamoring for different things, they don’t have a unified message, which makes it difficult to get people to rally to that cause -- the NRA/gun rights side has a unified message, which is “don’t give an inch” and it’s extremely effective.

  3. brucegee1962 says

    I just think it’s funny that the gun-fondlers are always saying “We don’t need new laws, we just need to enforce the ones already on the books.” Which is exactly what the Executive Orders are doing. But of course, when they say these things, we know they lie.

  4. Numenaster says

    Kyoseki, the NRA/gun right unified message USED to be extremely effective. It still is with those 5 million single-issue voters, but in the 2012 and 2014 elections we found that their spending wasn’t getting them nearly the results it used to. In 2012 the NRA backed 261 candidates, of whom 213 won. That’s about an 80% success rate. In 2014 they backed 211 candidates: only 102 won election, or less than 50%. Rachel Maddow spent a considerable time tracking the efficacy of outside spending in the 2014 election, and the NRA’s money didn’t buy them very much that year. Most of their investments were in candidates who lost, whereas Planned Parenthood’s donations were largely to candidates who won. We actually saw candidates return donations to the NRA in 2014. And from this Mother Jones article,

    In 2012, the NRA invested $4.3 million in 16 Senate races, but won in only 3. It endorsed 20 candidates, but only 9 of them were victorious. In 15 Senate races during 2010 and 2012 in which the NRA made its largest contributions—$200,000 or more either to support a candidate it favored or to defeat one it opposed—it won only six times. The NRA also spent $13.6 million last year to elect Mitt Romney…

    Article is here.

    The view you stated is a commonly held one: “The NRA is a lobbying juggernaut that all politicians fear to cross.” I think the president’s actions are intended to undermine that image, because the NRA is really the only organization whose lobbying is so focused on defeating restrictions on gun ownership. If the NRA is no longer feared in Washington DC, there is no obvious successor to take up their banner who will have nearly the same credibility outside the right wing echo chamber.

  5. Sunday Afternoon says

    Numenaster -- I wasn’t aware of the change of effectiveness of the NRA election effort. I do wonder however if there is a sampling bias: were the candidates that lost defeated in primaries by only-slightly-less-extreme candidates that were not NRA supported, but still toed the NRA line?

    Personally, I hope we are seeing the beginnings of a secular shift on the matter. It will take a while, like the reduction in public acceptance of drunk driving or the growth in acceptance of same-sex marriage. I long for the time when it is regarded as shameful to advocate for loosening regulations on gun ownership. At some point we need the Supreme Court to respond to public opinion and start observing the primary conditional clause in the 2nd amendment, viz: “A well-regulated Militia, …”

  6. sonofrojblake says

    Leaving aside the issue of whether you think they’d try, which of the following people do you think could take on the NRA and win?
    -- Hillary Clinton
    -- Bernie Sanders
    -- Ted Cruz
    -- Donald Trump

    I know who I’d put my money on.
    Trump opposes gun control… but he’s said “I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun. With today’s Internet technology we should be able to tell within 72-hours if a potential gun owner has a record”. That’s 72 hour more than the NRA seem to think you should have to wait.

  7. kyoseki says

    I’m pretty sure Trump reversed his position on assault weapons & waiting periods, just like he’s reversed his stance on everything else during this latest dog & pony show.

    Speaking of which, background checks are a bit hit and miss. I live in California which does it’s own background checks, which is the reason for the 10 day wait here to buy a gun -- it’s ostensibly a cooling off period, but it’s actually because the background check guys are so backlogged they had to increase the wait from 3 days to 10 and even then I’ve heard stories of them calling the firearms dealer on the 11th day and telling them not to release the gun after it’s already been picked up.

    … and (Lt. Gov.) Gavin Newsom wants to add to their workload by introducing background checks for ammunition purchases this year, for no real reason other than to be able to wave the “I’m tough on guns” banner when he runs for Governor (it’s certainly not going to stop any felons buying ammo, they’ll just drive across the state line to Nevada and buy it there, which is the same way everyone else gets around state gun laws).

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