As if Republicans don’t have enough structural problems, from their unpopular ideology to shrinking demographic base, their unyielding allegiance to the gun lobby — and its unreasonable opposition to universal background checks — delivers an unexpected Democratic advantage in 2014.
The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll pegged support for universal background checks for all gun buyers at 86 percent, with just 13 percent opposing. The latest CNN poll had support at 89-11, and it was 91-8 according to Quinnipiac University. In short, only a tiny fringe opposes the most sensible of commonsense gun reforms: keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals.
Yet last week we witnessed the bizarre spectacle of a majority of the U.S. Senate being unable to pass legislation supported by nine in 10 Americans because of an obstructionist minority ... including Flake.
Media commentators immediately tried to paint the issue in traditional partisan terms. NBC’s Tom Brokaw said “in those states in which the senators voted against the background check, it’s not even close to 90 percent in terms of wanting it, it’s probably down in single digits in Montana and Arkansas and Alaska and North Dakota.” Brokaw offered no evidence for his claim because none existed. Polling by Fox News stalwart Doug Schoen for Mayors Against Illegal Guns showed that 84 percent of Arkansas voters, 79 percent of Montana voters and 94 percent of North Dakota voters support universal background checks.
In South Carolina’s conservative 1st Congressional District, won by Mitt Romney last year by a margin of 58-40 percent, 86 percent of respondents to a Public Policy Polling survey over the weekend said they supported expanded background checks. Furthermore, 45 percent of district voters said they were less likely to vote Republican because of the issue, compared to just 21 percent who considered it a positive. Those less likely to vote Republican include 24 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of independents.
Expanded background checks are not a panacea to the scourge of gun violence, but a smart NRA would have embraced them as a solution, effectively blocking more stringent and effective restrictions. Yet the organization’s dogmatic and uncompromising position has pushed it into the fringe of the debate and given opponents an effective organizing issue. Mayors Against Illegal Guns and former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords’s Americans for Responsible Solutions are growing dramatically in stature and clout. Michael Bloomberg’s Independence USA super-PAC can counter the NRA’s electoral heft on a dollar-by-dollar basis, making it harder for pro-gun legislators to uncritically toe the gun lobby’s line.
Even in 2012, pre-Sandy Hook, just 0.86 percent of the $11.2 million the NRA spent in 2014 went to their desired result — either supporting a candidate who won or opposing a candidate who lost — according to the Sunlight Foundation. 2014 promises to be even rougher sailing for an increasingly isolated gun lobby.
The wounds are self-inflicted. The NRA could have been a good-faith partner in finding solutions to this vexing problem. Heck, it could have used expanded background checks as a bad-faith alternative to more effective regulations. Instead, its absolute opposition to any reform ensures that gun control will remain front and center on the national agenda, with the NRA being on the wrong side of the issue.
Moulitsas is the founder and publisher of Daily Kos.