Can the National Rifle Association ever be defeated?
I can’t blame you if you’re thinking “no.” It won again this week, as everyone knew it would. But someday, this dam will break.
I admit that these last few days give us little basis for hope, but I do think Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy’s filibuster had some impact in forcing a vote, albeit an unsuccessful one. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell controls the calendar, decides what gets to the floor. He didn’t have to schedule these votes. Granted, his real motivation was undoubtedly to give that small number of Republican incumbents from purple or blue states a chance to cast a reasonable-seeming vote on guns.
But public pressure exists, and polling is through the roof on support for banning the purchase of guns by people on terror-watch and no-fly lists. Murphy’s stand galvanized gun-control forces.
After the Newtown shooting in December of 2012, it took five months for the Senate to hold a vote. This time it took a week. That may not seem like much, especially given that both efforts came to the same bleak end, but this is progress of a sort. These things take a long time.
It was mildly encouraging, too, to see some red-state Democrats vote for gun legislation sponsored by Dianne Feinstein. To NRA hard-liners, she is Satan. There are four red-state Democrats who risk political suicide if they’re not careful on guns: Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Jon Tester of Montana. All but Heitkamp voted for Feinstein’s amendment to prevent gun purchases by anyone who’s been on a terror watch list for the last five years.
It should be noted that only Donnelly voted for the other Democratic measure, introduced by Murphy and Chuck Schumer, which sought to close the gun-show loophole. And all four of these Democrats opposed a weak amendment from Republican Chuck Grassley.
But ultimately, yes, the votes were election-year theater. Here’s how ridiculous the whole thing is. Maine Republican Susan Collins has this “compromise” bill that would ban purchases of guns by people on the no-fly list. That’s to get Democratic support. Then it allows people to appeal such a decision, which is supposed to lure Republicans, who’ve said they don’t like the ban because some people have been incorrectly put on those lists.
You might think that that would mean that enough senators from both parties could vote yes. But as of Tuesday afternoon, a Senate source explained to me, no other Republican had yet signed on to Collins’s bill. A small number presumably would—Mark Kirk of Illinois, who’s facing a tough reelection fight in a very blue state, maybe a few others. But Collins would need 15 or 16 Republicans to back her to get the 60 votes needed to end cloture. That’s as close to impossible as anything can be.
Now it gets even more baroque: Despite this lack of Republican enthusiasm, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may well give Collins a vote anyway. McConnell, of course, has no personal interest in compromise on this issue. He’s NRA all the way.
However, he probably wants a vote for the sake of Kirk, New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson—that is, all the Republicans up for reelection in blue states. It’ll look nice to voters back home that they cast a bipartisan gun vote.
But of course Democratic leader Harry Reid knows this, and so he might respond to such a move by McConnell by encouraging his caucus to vote against the Collins measure, thereby denying Kirk and the rest the desired bipartisan cover. Capische?
So the bill that is an actual compromise, the one bill on which both sides might actually have been able to agree, at least in theory, is the very bill that might lose by something like 95-5.
It’s not just ridiculous. It’s immoral. How high do the carcasses need to pile?
I sense we’re starting to reach the point where we’re going to learn the answer to that question. This just can’t go on forever. For starters, if Hillary Clinton maintains her lead and is elected president, one of the first things she’s going to do is put a liberal on the Supreme Court, making for a 5-4 liberal majority. Even if she settles for Merrick Garland, signs are he’d back gun control measures (the NRA already came out against him).
That could lead to an overturning of District of Columbia v. Heller, which vastly expanded individual gun-ownership rights. Given enough time, and maybe an Anthony Kennedy or a Clarence Thomas retirement and thus a 6-3 liberal majority, it could lead to still bigger changes in gun-law jurisprudence.
That would lead a defensive NRA to try to tighten its grip on Congress even more. And that will probably work, for a time. But it will embolden the anti-NRA forces too. Momentum will then be on their side.
And the mass killings will continue, and the bodies will pile up, and public outrage will grow. And one of these days, there’ll be a tragedy that will make everyone, even the number of Republicans who’d be needed to break a filibuster, say “enough.” It would have to be just the right kind of thing, click all the demographic boxes just right—a white man who bought an assault weapon with no background check and went on a rampage and killed many white people in a heavily Republican part of the country. I’m not wishing this on anyone, but then, I don’t need to. As we continue to do nothing, the odds increase daily that it will happen.
Things look awful until, one day, they suddenly don’t. The day Rosa Parks sat down on that bus, I bet not that many people would have predicted that a president would sign a civil rights bill just nine years later. The evil that is the NRA is so thoroughgoing and so repulsive to most Americans that it just can’t last forever. Newtown and Orlando energized millions of people. The LGBT community, I gather, is going to embrace gun-control as an issue. They’re organized, and they have money and clout. The old saying that pro-gun people vote on that issue while anti-gun people don’t isn’t as true as it once was.
So be angry about what happened. But Wayne LaPierre’s day will come, and maybe sooner than we think. And what a day it will be.