The list of ayes and nays from Here Are the Senators Who Just Voted Against Closing Gun-Purchase Loopholes in Slate:
Looking through the names of Republican senators, I can see maybe a half dozen who are from states in which yesterday’s no votes on assault rifle restrictions could theoretically be used in an election to beat them. Only six or seven at the most who might possibly find their no vote yesterday an issue come re-election. But that us all, no more than six or seven. Not even voting no on legislation to prevent known terror suspects from buying an AR-15 will likely prove to be the least bit on an incumbrance to anyone else. Indeed, all the remaining Republican senators in this list who voted no are from states in which their vote yesterday would likely be of no consequence whatsoever.
On the other hand, had any of them voted with the Democrats yesterday it would have had potentially disastrous consequences. Because the National Rifle Association could decide to back a primary challenger to the hilt, beginning with a negative ad campaign years ahead of any election. Indeed, years before there was a primary challenger. The NRA could begin seeding the field with negative advertising, viral messaging, robo calls and social media chatter two, four or even six years ahead of time, preparing the straying senator’s state for his eventual demise at the hands of a bright young NRA loyalist. No matter how popular an incumbent senator might be, he can be beaten in a primary, particularly a midterm primary, and in particular a midterm primary runoff election with a very low turnout. Ted Cruz emerged from one of the lowest turnout run off elections in the entire history of Texas, helped along mightily by the NRA. Nobody else could stand the guy, but they liked him.
The NRA has a high success rate with this sort of thing, with a cold eyed willingness to use their nearly limitless funds and resources to go after any Republican who strays. Not that most Republican senators today would even if they could. It’s not that they are cowed by the NRA (as are many Democrats in states with a large NRA membership, among them Bernie Sanders). Most of those Republican senators became senators by being ideologically in tune with the NRA when they won their first primary. And a lot of them got into office by winning primaries against incumbents judged too weak on gun rights. The National Rifle Association doesn’t like to spend its membership’s hard earned cash on candidates who don’t deep down agree with the NRA on the issues. On every issue in fact. They have been very effective at using the GOP primaries to cull those not 100% enamored of uncompromising second amendment rights. The GOP in congress is, as a result, much more hardline on nearly zero restrictions on assault weapons (and open carry, etc.) than 90% of the American public.
Incredibly, the GOP in congress is even more fanatical on Second Amendment Rights than is the bulk of the NRA membership. The legislation voted down by all but two Republican senators yesterday was actually in line with the wishes of the great majority members of the NRA. But the membership is not the threat in a primary. The NRA leadership is the threat. They dole out the money. They write the attack ads. They get the members worked up. They are the absolute masters of single issue political campaigns today because in any given state on voting day they can deliver their members living in that state, en bloc, to their preferred candidate. No one bucks the NRA if they can possibly avoid it.
The NRA has been equally effective in electing true believers in statehouse races. Thus all those surreal instances of states enacting laws that are
so pro-gun it seems insane, and with very little prodding from the NRA. Very little is needed (in Vermont a sixteen year old can purchase and conceal carry a handgun without parental permission; in Florida and Oklahoma it is illegal to prevent an employee from bringing a gun to work; in Indiana and North Dakota an employer can be sued if he asks an employee if he owns a gun; in Michigan legislators passed a bill allowing concealed carry in schools, bars, daycare centers and churches, though why I do not know.) The candidates who made it through the Republican primary process in those states and got elected are already 2nd Amendment fanatics with deeply held beliefs about gun rights far beyond the pale of what most Americans consider necessary or safe. Or, sometimes, even sane.
At the same time, I can see several here among the list of Democrats who would find the NRA’s anger over this vote to be potentially very dangerous in a midterm election, when Democratic turnout is low and conservative Republican turn out is high. In every case where a swing state has a senator who is extremely pro-NRA–Joni Ernst of Iowa, for example–that senator was elected during a midterm where hardline conservatives flocked to the polls while everyone else stayed home. Midterms with very few exceptions swing to the party out of power. So when a Democrat is in the White House, a lot of very pro-NRA senators are elected in the midterm elections. Senators elected under those circumstances will give the NRA very little concern. They are one of their own, after all.
And while the specific methods used by the National Rifle Association to maintain this coalition in defense of NRA issues are unique, there is nothing unique about an interest group–which is what the National Rifle Association is, an interest group interested only in guns–maintaining such a fearful grip on legislative loyalties. After all, as Republicans love to point out, the AFL-CIO once maintained power in the Congress in much the same way, and any member of congress who went against them could expect an enormous infusion of money, resources and, on election day, votes going to his opponent. Much as the NRA’s influence is relegated to Republican states and districts, mainly rural, so was organized Labor’s influence limited to Democratic states and districts, mainly urban. But it was just as powerful as the NRA is now, and it wasn’t the US opened up its economy to exporting jobs overseas (I’ll blame Reagan, those there’s more than enough responsibility to go around) that union power was reduced….and with it, the number of elected Democrats in congress. Power shifted. The NRA saw the vacuum and filled it and has since never lost a vote on gun control. Not even after a school massacre with a dozen dead babies or an office Christmas party with dead people under the mistletoe or a nightclub full of so many dead you could dance on their bodies and never touch the ground.
Yet all the public wants, and keeps wanting, in poll after poll, is to make it harder for hate filled lunatics and terrorists to buy assault rifles. The sort of assault rifles designed for the military to kill attacking soldiers as quickly as possible, but in the wrong hands can slaughter a room full of innocent people before the cops can get there. But the NRA is adamantly opposed to any such restrictions, and the NRA knows that their allies in Congress would never betray them, no matter how many people die. And the ones who secretly think about betraying them look at Ted Cruz and remember who it was that help put him there.
Maybe when all those Hispanics in the southwest driven into the Democratic Party by Republican nativists begin voting in large enough numbers we’ll see the GOP grip on the Senate begin to wilt. Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and especially Texas are vital to Republican power. Lose them and the Republicans lose their majority in the Senate. And without a Republican majority in the Senate, the National Rifle Association loses its veto power over gun control legislation. Then, and maybe only then, will the overwhelming majority of the American public finally get legislation to keeps assault weapons out of the hands of terrorists and psychos, even if they have to pry that law from the NRA’s cold dead hands.