In a substantial blow to the president’s second-term agenda, the Manchin-Toomey gun control bill—a much weaker proposal than the president would have liked—failed in the Senate yesterday evening:
It failed by a vote of 54-46, short of the necessary 60. A handful of Democrats voted against it and only four Republicans supported the measure backed by the White House. The vote effectively halted gun control in the upper chamber. Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.), Max Baucus (Mont.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Mark Begich (Alaska) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) voted no. Reid strongly supports the bill, and his vote was a procedural one that allows him to bring the measure up again in the future.
The president has called it a “shameful day for Washington,” and accused the bill’s opponents of deciding it “wasn’t worth it” to protect children from gun violence. The Huffington Post and various progressive groups are blaming the four Democrats who voted against it, but even if they had voted in favor, the bill would have been one short. Josh Krashauer has an important reality check about how 2014 impacts the politics of gun control:
Put simply, the 2014 Senate elections will be fought predominantly on the very turf that is most inhospitable to gun control–Southern and Mountain West conservative states.
Which is exactly why progressive promises to challenge the senators who voted against the bill shouldn’t be taken seriously. Jon Chait is thinking along similar lines.
The conservative take, from Charles Cooke, Ben Domenech, and others, is that the president and other gun control proponents bought the hype from opinion pages and the Sunday shows that the Newtown massacre catalyzed a major shift in public opinion. In reality, as Kevin Drum notes, most people don’t really care that much about gun control, and the proposed legislation was never going to be enough for the people who actually do. The recent uptick in public opinion in favor of gun control comes on the heels of a secular decline both gun violence and support for gun regulation, as Brian Doherty observed in these pages late last year:
… while guns themselves are still a big deal to Americans, the political struggle over them no longer is. At the beginning of the 1990s, Gallup found 78 percent of Americans asking for stricter gun laws. By 2009, that number was 44 percent, a historic low. The Democratic Party has grown leery of the issue, as many Democrats have come to believe that both the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress and Al Gore’s 2000 presidential loss could be blamed on backlash against the party’s gun-control victories of the early 1990s: the Brady Bill, which imposed national background checks before you can buy a gun, and the “assault weapon” ban on certain types of semiautomatic guns and magazines.
Americans have seen the number of guns in private hands continue to rise—and the number of states that pretty much allow any law-abiding citizen to carry concealed weapons reach over 40. We have simultaneously witnessed a 41 percent decline in overall violent crime rates over the past two decades. The homicide rate has fallen by nearly half over that period.