It seemed like such a good idea at the time: after Sandy Hook, Democrat politicians put all their eggs in the gun-control basket, confident that their extreme gun-grabbing proposals, not to mention the President’s executive orders, would gain instant approval from both fellow legislators and from voters. Boy, were they wrong. What’s happened instead is that Democrat Senators from vulnerable districts are facing a scenario in which they may be punished whether or not they get their gun control bills passed.
The Hill reports that several vulnerable Democrat politicians, by making gun control so central to their legislative goals, have incurred the ire of their gun rights constituents. And because they’ve shown that they’re to stand firm in the face of NRA push-back against the Democrat gun-grab, their gun-control constituents view them as weak and ineffectual. Gun-control groups have already expressed their displeasure with the fact that Sen. Harry Reid was unable to get enough Democrat votes to put Dianne Feinstein’s extreme assault weapon ban up to a vote. According to The Hill:
“People are not going to say, ‘That’s a tough vote for them, let’s not do anything,’ ” said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “There is a feeling that to win this thing we need all the Democrats. That means people who are in tough races in 2014 don’t get passes. I would expect issue ads and advocacy for all senators.”
Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, warned that Democrats who vote against the assault weapons ban could depress liberal turnout in the 2014 midterm election.
“With guns, it will be a major election issue for Democrats. Opposing strong gun laws could mean depressing their base, which in the off year would be a very bad idea,” Green said.
He said if any Democratic primary challengers emerge, votes against gun laws could become lines of attack.
“If there is a credible primary challenger, a vote against strong gun laws would absolutely hurt an incumbent Democrat,” he said.
Democrat senators who are vulnerable to both primary challenges from within their party and to Republican opponents if they don’t vote for gun control bills include Senators Mark Begich of Alaska, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, and and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. These Senators have good reason to fear. Independence USA, a PAC that Mayor Bloomberg formed, is aggressive when it comes to destroying Democrats who don’t toe the line on gun control. In 2012, before Sandy Hook ratcheted up the gun control debate, Independence USA spent more than $3 million in California to defeat Rep. Joe Baca, a pro-gun Democrat, and around $2 million in Illinois to defeat Rep. Debbie Halvorson, another pro-gun Democrat.
For Democrat politicians, when it comes to gun-control votes, if Independence USA is the rock, the NRA is the hard place. Chris Cox, executive director for the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action has put the matter bluntly:
There will be ramifications for elected officials who support gun bans. Our position is unequivocal. We do not support gun bans as a matter of policy or effective way of controlling guns.
In 2010, the NRA spent an estimated $20 million to let its members know where mid-term candidates stood on gun rights. In 2012, a presidential election year, the NRA increased its spending to $25 million.
Meanwhile, Senator Dianne Feinstein is blundering along with her assault weapon ban, apparently unaware that the only way to save many of her most-vulnerable fellow Democrats is to let the whole matter quietly drop. Instead, last Tuesday, she told CNN that “Not to give me a vote on this would be a major betrayal of trust, as I would see it.” According to her, Sen. Harry Reid knows about her goals and promised her the opportunity to vote on them:
What Sen. Reid told me is that I would have an opportunity for a vote. I take him at his word. I told him also that it would be my intention to separate out the prohibition on the future manufacture, transfer, sales, possession of large ammunition-feeding devices of more than 10 bullets.
Feinstein isn’t the only one trying to get her Democrat colleagues to commit political suicide. Even though her proposed bill manifestly violates the Second Amendment, in both letter and spirit, President Obama is also trying to revive the comprehensive “assault weapon” Feinstein is so aggressively pushing.
Democrats thought that they were clever in heeding Rahm Emanuel’s dictum that “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” so that you has “an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” When their most vulnerable Congress people face primary challenges within their own party or are swept away by a Republican opponent, though, they may wish that Rahm had kept his mouth shut.