Apr 17, 2013

Universal common sense gun safety equal access rights buzzword hashtag

All nine proposed amendments to the Senate gun control bill failed procedural votes today, including stronger background checks, limited magazine sizes, and the assault weapons ban. President Obama, with his tragic human shields, was visibly upset reacting to the votes at an appearance today.
"A few minutes ago a minority in the United States Senate decided it wasn't worth it. They blocked common-sense gun reforms, even while these families looked on from the Senate gallery. By now it's well-known that 90 percent of the American people support universal background checks that make it harder for a dangerous person to buy a gun. We're talking about convicted felons, people convicted of domestic violence, people with a severe mental illness."
If 90% of the public supports something, it's either an obviously good thing or a hideously terrible thing that everyone has been duped into supporting. In the case of the oft-parroted 90% support for background checks, it's a mixture of the two and some other things as well.

The Quinnipiac poll where the 90% figure comes from is as follows:
Do you support or oppose requiring background checks for all gun buyers?
Support: 91%
Oppose: 8%
Don't know: 1%
If 91% of people supported universal background checks, and that's all that was in the Toomey-Manchin amendment, it would have passed overwhelmingly. There are three things that kept it from doing so: a large number of that 91% support the idea of universal background checks without realizing the implications, Toomey-Manchin had a lot of other problems, and many of the people voting on it are up for reelection next year.

If actually 91% of people support something, and you're worried about your next election, you would vote for that thing, not against it. "But it's Republican primary voters!" Nope. "But it's Democrats running in red states!" Nope. The Quinnipiac poll shows 88% Republican support, 90% Southern support, and 91% Western support for it as well. Again. If these numbers are right and are actually consequential.

Three of the four Democrats who voted against Toomey-Manchin are up for reelection next year in red states. But even if these states were 100% Republican, 88% of them said they support universal background checks. The fourth Democrat, Heidi Heitkamp, was just elected last year, so she has another 5 years before she has to worry about reelection. Her statement on her vote includes:
"I’ve thought long and hard about this, I’ve taken the tough meetings, and I’ve heard overwhelmingly from the people of North Dakota; and at the end of the day my duty is to listen to and represent the people of North Dakota."

But the people of North Dakota presumably also support it in the high 80s or 90s! Right? RIGHT???

So what's the problem then? If so many people support an idea, why don't their representatives? It must be "willful lies" of the evil "gun lobby"! Nope. It's just that no one really cares. While a lot of people might like the idea of gun control, only 4% of people think it's the most important problem we face. Just as many people think North Korea and immigration are our worst problems, and more people think moral decline is. So while it may have popular support in an isolated poll, it's not going to bring people out to the only poll that matters - their local precinct next November. That means Senators and Representatives are free to use their heads when considering issues instead of poll numbers. So that means they were able to see the other problems with the bill and rightfully oppose it.

There are a few problems with the idea of universal background checks itself, of course. First, it's great theoretically for everyone who buys a gun to have a background check, but it is logistically difficult. Background checks are already mandatory for licensed gun dealers, the only people setup to conduct them. Extending that requirement to everyone in the country would in effect end legal private gun sales. If I had a gun I wanted to sell to my neighbor, how would I go about getting a background check on him? The background checks mandated by federal law aren't as simple as those used by tenant or employee reporting agencies. Perhaps a system could be setup to streamline the process, but Toomey-Manchin didn't do that, otherwise it might have made their case easier to consider. Technically, Congress shouldn't have the power to regulate this kind of commerce anyway, since it' may not occur over state lines.

Second, it doesn't count gifts, donations, or trades. Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook murderer, stole his weapons from his mother, who passed a background check. Even banning gifts and trades wouldn't prevent people from stealing guns. For those new to the planet, criminals don't follow the law.

Third, many, if not most, murderers wouldn't be stopped by a background check anyway. Adam Lanza might have been an oddball, but he didn't have a diagnosed mental illness or criminal background. He could have gone to the nearest gun store, bought an AR-15 and two pistols, and done the same thing, even after Toomey-Manchin or even harsher gun control measures were in effect.

So yes, it's easy to use isolated poll numbers and grieving families to bludgeon people who stop your agenda dead in its tracks, but occasionally there are actual ideological and substantive reasons for them to do so, even if they are politicians!


Blake Lemoine said...

I don't know if getting background check legislation passed was necessarily Obama's agenda. It may have been but I think that he might be just as aware of the ineffectiveness of the law, be ambivalent about its passage, and still act the way he has acted. If he hadn't pushed for something, anything, as hard as he could push then he would have lost a LOT of face and the Republicans would've gained a lot of political capital. This way the Republicans are the ones who loose face if anyone does. More likely it just will fade and lots of political maneuvering will have been made. The democrats gain a small amount of political capital and the republicans get their pockets thoroughly lined. The way it went is a win-win.

Matthew DesOrmeaux said...

Background checks were part of his agenda, along with assault weapons, magazines, mental health, and everything else that failed today. The bills weren't written as he would have written them, but it is being perceived as a major defeat for his agenda.


Blake Lemoine said...

I'm not sure if you're disagreeing with me or misunderstanding what I meant. Just to be certain, what I meant was that despite all appearances otherwise Obama might not actually care one way or the other. It might all just be political theater.

Matthew DesOrmeaux said...

I think the partisan fundraising pitch is a byproduct of it, not the cause of it.

Blake Lemoine said...

Fair enough. Topics like this are almost pure speculation so both possibilities have only suggestive evidence supporting them. Just curious though, do you believe that Obama truly thinks that the legislation would reduce the likelihood of school shootings? If so why do you think he'd willfully ignore the reports his office has gotten on the topic? If not then why do you think he believes the legislation is valuable?

Matthew DesOrmeaux said...

I think he at least partially believes the "if it saves just one life, it's worth it" trope. He probably also thinks the polls showing popular support give him leeway to push harder than is worth doing, hoping it gives him back Speaker Pelosi next year.