On December 17, a pair of United States senators with “A”-ratings from the National Rifle Association called for a discussion about passing new “sensible” federal gun control legislation in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting, according to the Washington Post and Politico.com.
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, both Democrats, took aim at the nation’s current gun laws in media appearances on the day the first victims of the Newtown school massacre were being buried.
In the days immediately following the tragedy, several prominent progressive Democratic senators renewed their push for passing stricter gun control laws and federal legislation banning the sale of so-called “assault weapons” to civilians. On Sunday, a pair of vocal liberal Democrats who have built their political careers around the gun control issue – California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and New York Sen. Charles Schumer – promised to make the passage of an assault weapons ban a top legislative priority when the U.S. Senate begins its new session in January 2013.
The announcements by Sen. Manchin and Sen. Warner – both considered to be more moderate, pro-2nd Amendment Democrat politicians – will now ensure that gun control becomes a topic for the national political discussion and in the U.S. Congress in 2013.
Warner, who is up for re-election in 2014, spoke candidly on December 17 to the Washington Post about his views on passing new gun control laws by saying:
“I’ve got an A rating from the NRA. But the status quo isn’t acceptable. I’ve got three daughters. They asked me on Friday evening, ‘Dad, what are you gonna do about this?’ There’s got to be a way to put reasonable restrictions, particularly as we look at assault weapons, as we look at these fast clips of ammunition.”
The senator also appeared on the Richmond CBS affiliate WTVR Channel 6, taking a more circumspect tone in front of his Virginia constituents when he said, “I’ve had a NRA rating of an ‘A’ but, you know, enough is enough. I think most of us, realize that there are ways to get to rational gun control. There are ways to grapple with the obvious challenges of mental illness.”
Manchin appeared on the MSNBC program “Morning Joe” on December 17, attempting to use his credibility as a lifetime NRA member and a hunter to establish his credentials when he said:
“I’ve never had more than three shells in a clip. Sometimes you don’t get more than one shot anyway at a deer. It’s common sense. It’s time to move beyond rhetoric. We need to sit down and have a common-sense discussion and move in a reasonable way.”
The path for GOP comeback in 2014
The renewed focus by Democrats on federal gun control legislation is the first giant step in the direction of political and ideological overreach in the wake of the 2012 election.
Prodded over the weekend by high-profile national figures, such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Democrats have a restless political base with dreams of passing a prohibition of private gun ownership. As this Examiner pointed out in an article yesterday, if the result was anything like Bloomberg’s city, the problems would only intensify.
For the GOP, the winning strategy will be to encourage Democrats to continue on this path of electoral destruction all the way to the 2014 election. With firm control of the U.S. House of Representatives, the possibility of any gun control legislation passing is non-existent. Winning 2014 Senate races, however, is another matter entirely.
Democrats are caught in the unenviable position of having to defend 20 of the 33 seats up for election in the U.S. Senate in 2014.
The gun control issue presents a golden opportunity for Republicans to unite the party around an issue of fundamental agreement, in addition to poisoning the prospects of several vulnerable incumbent Democrat senators from pro-gun rights states who are facing daunting odds in their 2014 races.
Forcing embattled Democrat senators to take a position on the issue that is political kryptonite in the states from which they are elected, combined with a potentially challenging special election in Massachusetts and another in Hawaii, will likely stretch the resources of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to its breaking point in 2014.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seems all too willing to oblige the Republican resurgence in 2014 by agreeing on December 17 to tackle the toxic issue of guns in January, according to Politico.com.
The following Democrat senators from historically Republican-leaning states, or states with large rural and pro-gun rights voting constituencies, face re-election in 2014:
Mark Begich – Alaska
Mary Landrieu – Lousiana
Jay Rockefeller – West Virginia
Mark Pryor – Arkansas
Tim Johnson – South Dakota
Kay Hagan – North Carolina
Max Baucus – Montana
Mark Udall – Colorado
Tom Harkin – Iowa
As respected pollster and political strategist Charlie Cook observed: Landrieu, Pryor, Rockefeller, and Johnson all come from states that President Barack Obama lost by 15 points or more in 2012. Begich and Baucus are from states that Obama lost by 14 points in the 2012 election.
Hagan, Harkin, and Udall are running for re-election in swing states with large rural constituencies where gun control is anathema to independent voters.
For Republicans who are weary from the protracted clashes with President Barack Obama and his seemingly populist progressive themes, the possibility of engaging the Democrats on an issue that will demolish their national brand and lead to a GOP Senate in 2014 is a tantalizing proposition with virtually no political downside.
According to a Pew Research Center poll conducted shortly after the Aurora movie theater shooting in July 2012, public support for controlling gun ownership is at 46 percent, which represents a 20-point drop in support from the 66 percent level it enjoyed the year after the Columbine massacre in 1999.
It is the voters in pro-gun rights strongholds that will be the states determining the balance of power in the U.S. Senate in 2014 that Republicans can appeal to while the Democrats expend their political capital on gun control legislation in 2013.
The overwhelming temptation for liberal Democrats to overreach ideologically and claim a mandate for reform of the nation’s gun laws after President Barack Obama’s 2012 victory, when combined with the pending implementation of Obamacare’s taxes and regulations, could seal their fate in the 2014 elections.
Steven Holmes is the Los Angeles Political Buzz Examiner.
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