Six months have passed since a lone gunman walked in to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and shot 20 small children and six adults. The big push for legislation to curb gun violence that followed Newtown peaked in April, in a Senate showdown where supporters of the bill were unable to get 60 votes to break a Republican-led filibuster.
The Week's Jon Terbush noted earlier this week that this defeat took the wind out of the sails of the gun-control movement — and now, he says, "the prospect of gun control legislation getting a second wind seems unlikely."
Senate Democrats, apparently, disagree. "The fight is not over, it has just begun," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday, flanked by families of the Newtown victims. "We may have lost the first vote, but we're going to win the last one," added Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
They aren't just blowing hot air, says Jonathan Weisman in The New York Times. Congressional Democrats and the White House are quietly renewing their effort to pass gun safety legislation "amid delicate talks on a new background-check measure that advocates hope could change enough votes from no to yes." The number of votes needed is daunting, and Reid warned that any new measure can't be weaker than the one stymied in April, but this does provide supporters a concrete glimmer of hope.
The quiet talks between two senators who voted against the bill, Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) "officially do not exist," Weisman adds. Both lawmakers "deny the existence of negotiations or legislation." At the same time, "other senators are openly acknowledging and encouraging the effort and say the talks are building momentum." And if Begich and Ayotte switch their votes, supporters need at least three more nay-to-aye conversions. (Stand-in Sen. Jeffrey Chiesa [R-N.J.] is a wild card.)
Supporters of the gun measures say that if Begich and Ayotte can reach a deal on background checks that's robust enough for Democrats and different enough to make vote-switching look credible, four other senators may join them. That would be enough to pass at least that part of the gun safety package.
But none of the potential switchers are encouraging talk of a renewed push, and Democratic leaders are increasingly urging New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) to put down one of his financial weapons, his threat to spend heavily to defeat Democrats who voted against the bill. A Republican-led Senate would spell the death of gun control, Reid says he told Bloomberg, to unknown effect: "He's kind of a free spirit, and a very rich one."
Just because the "recalcitrant Senate succumbed to pressure from gun manufacturers and the NRA's leadership and failed to pass even the most modest measure" doesn't mean the post-Newtown gun control push has failed, say Robyn Thomas and Juliet Leftwich in the Los Angeles Times.
Since the Newtown tragedy, gun regulation has made enormous gains in states across the country, with more on the horizon. In fact, an unprecedented number of gun control laws have been introduced, debated, voted on and enacted this year. What a difference Sandy Hook and six months have made.... In all, we've seen a year-to-year increase of 231 percent in the introduction of common sense gun-safety legislation nationwide. [Los Angeles Times]
Even the Senate bill's defeat "was, in its way, a victory," say Thomas and Leftwich, who work for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The fact that it was introduced, that hearings were held, and that it got 55 votes represents progress. After the vote, several senators felt real repercussions from their decision to vote against the bill, including Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), whose approval rating dropped by more than 15 percent immediately after the background check vote. There are now real consequences for legislators who choose not to represent the will of their constituents on this issue. [Los Angeles Times]