Political Animal


March 25, 2013 11:09 AM Shifting Tectonics On Guns

By Ed Kilgore

As the Senate moves towards a vote on Harry Reid’s gun violence package, which now (after the excision of a renewed assault gun ban and high-capacity ammo clip restrictions) centers on a quasi-universal background check system for gun sales, there are a lot of shifting techtonics to keep in mind:

First, public opinion remains overwhelmingly in favor of universal background checks across just about every subset of the population. The opposition may be noisy and influential, and benefits from the perception that this is a “voting issue” only for opponents, but this is at present not a close call in terms of where the public stands.

Second, the near-unanimity of public opinion probably reflects the ironic fact that for many years a stronger background check system was the default-drive alternative offered by the NRA to every other gun measure. Yes, the gun lobby has been fighting to protect the “gun show loophole” to background checks for some time, and has quietly worked to undermine the system as it exists, but it’s still difficult for Lapierre and company to pretend it represents a deadly threat to the Second Amendment.

Third, we are in a period where the once-powerful force of red-state Democratic reluctance to make waves on “cultural issues” is waning. There are fewer red-state Dems to worry about, for one thing. For another, voter polarization and reduced ticket-splitting have made the route to survival for red- (and more often, purple-) state Democrats depend more on base mobilization than has been the case in the past.

This last factor remains important in the 60-vote Senate, however. Plum Line’s Greg Sargent runs the numbers this morning, and identifies five Democrats and three Republicans who are being cross-pressured by the usual NRA threats—but also by Michael Bloomberg’s lavishly funded upcoming ad campaign pushing back.

How individual senators, the two parties, and the White House calculate all these factors will largely determine what happens after the Easter Recess. But in this installment of the Gun Wars, it’s no longer quite the simple question of doing what’s right versus doing what’s expedient that it used to be.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • boatboy_srq on March 25, 2013 11:26 AM:

    It's worth noting that one more item may make firearms ownership easier while breaking the back of the gun lobby in the process - if it can stand up to the gun lobby's likely effort to quash it.

    NPR had an item this morning on that libertarian genius trying to print a gun using the new 3d prototyping printer devices. He's using the technology to make a statement about how unenforceable the current regulations are, since his gun wouldn't fall under any of the usual regulations and could be produced quickly and (relatively) cheaply without any manufacturer/dealer/seller constraints or records. What ne may not be taking into full account is that if his hypothesis stands, for anyone with access to a 3D printer the need for a big, wealthy firearms industry shrinks to insignificance. So while it may indeed be possible for firearms to be produced on the fly using locally-available tools and methods, the biggest funders - and hardest pushers - for unfettered access to guns aren't likely to see a dime from any weapon so produced. And if they make design a criterion for assessing fees on home-gun-printers, then there are plenty of firearms designs in the public domain which I fully expect the home-prototyping crowd to use in place of the more expensive current (patented) ones.

    Making guns more accessible by home-prototyping may become real; the question then becomes whether the gun industry will have anything resembling a future. The alternative would be an outright ban (complete with heavy fines and prison sentences for offenders) on home-prototyping of firearms - which will be the exact opposite of the goal sought by the person in today's segment - and with the collective might of the gun industry and its NRA pushing for such a ban it's difficult to see it not succeeding.

  • c u n d gulag on March 25, 2013 11:34 AM:

    I don't know how you fix the gun manufacturers dilemma - which is, that while you need to constantly sell more and more guns to keep your profits rolling in, there are fewer and fewer people who want to actually purchase your product.

    So, either you ratchet-up some hysteria periodically, and hope to get some new purchasers, while also assuming that your old regular purchasers will want more, and/or better guns - or you have to not make such a durable commodity.

    The modern gun, well taken care of, will last for decades - and even much, much longer.

    Maybe they need to go back to that age-old manufacturing standard - planned obsolescence.

    Make sh*ttier guns, that fall apart, and need to be replaced.
    Kind of like American cars back in the early 80's.

    Oh, wait! But that might kill nad/or off your purchasing pool!!!
    Well, it's not like they're not killing and/or maiming themselves on a daily basis already with the well-made and durable guns you're making now.

    The problem is, how many adults and children they're taking with them.
    Maybe if the gun manufacturers made sh*ttier guns, and that loons gun in CT jammed, or the movie theater maniac's did, it might have saved a coupld of dozen children and adults.

    Just think - making sh*ttier, less reliable guns, will mean continuing profits!

    And yes, obviously, there is some level of *snark* invovled, lest you think I'm completely serious.

  • Don Hosek on March 25, 2013 12:14 PM:

    Tectonics, not Techtonics.

  • Annoying Aunt Agatha on March 25, 2013 12:31 PM:

    That's 'tectonic', no h.

    [Fixed it as soon as I saw it. Thanks. I got a late start today. You know it's Monday when the people who work from home are complaining... --Mod]