Monday, April 22, 2013

Obama and Guns

When he ran in 2008, Barack Obama insisted that he was not anti-gun. Many gun-rights advocates did not trust him on this. They believed that he was deeply anti-gun but hid his true motives in order to get elected. Recent events have justified these fears. After the shootings at Sandy Hook, Obama proposed an anti-gun agenda that could have been written in the 1990s. He then used his bully pulpit to make gun control legislation the centerpiece of his second term.

So, where are we now?

Three states have passed restrictive gun legislation. My prediction is that it will be ignored, especially the New York ban on "high capacity" magazines. The original legislation banned nearly every semi-automatic pistol ever made. The statute was amended to allow magazines that can hold more bullets as long as they are not transported that way.

As far as Congress, it was obvious from the start that actually passing any meaningful measures was going to be difficult if not impossible. The House refused to introduce any legislation until the Senate passed something.

In the Senate it quickly became obvious that bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines did not have enough votes. Mandatory background checks were pushed as the only thing that could pass.

Despite political reality, the President kept pushing his whole package, seemingly oblivious to events.

Some political observers suspected Obama of playing the long game. He would push gun control through the Senate in the hope that it would die in the Republican-controlled House. Then he would use this as a campaign wedge in 2014 to defeat the Republicans and regain control of both houses.

If true, this policy now lies in tatters. The Senate failed to pass anything, even a moderate background check. Most Republicans voted against it but a few were for and a few Democrats voted against. That will make it very difficult for the President to use the vote against the Republicans.

A bigger problem is that the country is not behind the President. While one poll found that 90% of the country supports background checks, only 8% things that gun control is the nation's top priority. And that poll was taken before the events of last week.

There is also a political issue to the vote that goes beyond the NRA. Immigration reform is coming and is likely to be decisive. Some Senators know that they will be voting against the wishes of their constituents. They feel that they can survive one divisive vote but not two. These Senators rightly believe that immigration is the more pressing issue.

The Sandy Hook push was an emotional appeal made possible because of the immediacy of the tragedy. After the Boston Marathon bombing, the fertilizer plant explosion, and the death of one bomber and apprehension of the other one, Sandy Hook seems a lot less urgent.

For now, the President will get nothing on gun-control on the national level. Most politicians would face reality and drop the issue but Obama is particularly stubborn. Expect him to bring the issue up again.

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