On Thursday, at a breakfast gathering sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and John McCain (R-AZ) agreed that Congress is not done with gun control, that there is a good possibility that legislation calling for tougher gun laws comes up for another vote in 2013.
This announcement, of course, comes a little over a week after the a bipartisan bill that would have expanded background checks to gun purchases made over the Internet and at gun shows failed to garner the 60 votes it need to overcome a Republican-led filibuster.
“I think we’re going to bring this bill back before the end of the year and I think you may find some changes,” said Schumer, who pioneered the universal background check effort for the Democrats.
“Lots of senators who thought it was safe to vote against it” he added, “are not so sure any more” because of changing attitudes.
Schumer is one of many pro-gun control lawmakers who believe that pressure being put on those who voted against the measure by advocacy groups like Americans for Responsible Solutions, the political action committee created by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, is having an effect.
Gun control, Schumer argued, was also beginning to gain real traction with the masses, “I think we’re at a turning point … I think the numbers are getting a little more intense.”
After make his way around several conservative leaning parts of the Empire State, Schumer claimed to have support for an expanded background check measure from new voices, “I heard from people who said ‘Keep at it,’ and I never heard from those folks before.”
As for McCain, who also voted in favor of the expanded background check proposal drafted by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), he concurred with Schumer that the issue is not going away.
“I do agree with Chuck. I think the issue is going to come back,” said the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee.
Though for McCain, the main thing the Senate needs to tackle moving forward is “the issue of crazy people who do terrible things.” For McCain, this critical issue raises the age-old philosophical quandary over striking the right balance between personal freedoms/privacy rights and public safety.
“That is probably the toughest part of this issue: Where do individual rights end and the obligation to protect the population begin?” McCain said. “We really need to have that national discussion, I think, in more depth.”
Perhaps McCain is right about that, perhaps society needs to focus the debate more intensely on issues surrounding mental health instead of bans on so-called ‘assault’ weapons and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
With respect to Schumer’s claim that public support for gun control is growing, one should point out that it doesn’t seem to be the type of grass roots activism that will really foment policy change. In other words, gun control may be gaining support, but it’s only amongst folks who are not all that politically engaged (i.e. people who will take a phone survey but won’t attend a rally).
Consider this from the LA Times:
While more Americans (47 percent) reported a negative reaction to the Senate action than a positive one (39 percent), the poll, done by the Washington Post and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, found that the kind of strong feelings that build political campaigns mostly lay on the pro-gun side of the debate.
Those who said they felt “very happy” over the Senate action significantly outnumbered those who called themselves “angry” – 20 percent to 15 percent. Among those who had a negative reaction to the Senate action, most called themselves not “angry,” but “disappointed” (32 percent). Those who felt positively about the Senate’s action split almost evenly between “very happy” and “relieved” at 19 percent.
That finding reinforces a point that political operatives with long experience in the gun control debate often make: The gun rights side of the debate includes more people with intense feelings about the issue.
As long as gun owners have a larger, more active and more politically engaged crowd then we should continue to win the war over gun control.
One recent example, that underscores the lack of real, boots-on-the-ground support of the pro-gun control side, is Thursday’s Stop the NRA March in D.C., hosted by a slew of advocacy groups for tougher gun laws, including: Public Campaign, Occupy the NRA, CREDO, Every Child Matters, Moveon, United For Change, USA, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, The Other 98%, and We Act Radio.
Virtually no one showed up to event, as illustrated by these pictures here. So, bottom line, one could argue that unless the gun-control community increases its core number of serious activists, it shouldn’t expect to see any real change in Washington — no matter how many times Congress votes on gun control legislation.