But four months after the Newtown killings, there's no majority in the
Even though an Elon University poll last month found that 93% of North Carolina voters favor background checks for almost all gun purchasers, that's not what Hagan's hearing from many of her constituents. When gun control is in the news, her voicemail fills with warnings from North Carolinians threatening to throw her out of office if she tries to limit their gun rights.
So what's Hagan's position? Ambushed by a North Carolina
"I think that most people today expect to have a criminal background check done before somebody purchases a gun," she said. "So we will certainly want to see how that provision is laid out in the bill…. I'm going to see what it is, how it applies, and look into that."
What's happened to Hagan is the same thing that has happened to other endangered Democrats and the few moderate Republicans who might vote for stronger background checks: They've come face-to-face with the power of the
The NRA's campaign is even more fervently anti-regulation than in the past. As recently as 1999, the organization supported near-universal checks for gun purchasers to weed out criminals and the mentally ill, but no longer. Now, the NRA is stoking fears that background checks will lead to a national gun registry, despite language in the bill that specifically prohibits one. The NRA and its supporters have also warned that the expanded checks could force fathers to ask permission from the federal government before giving guns to their sons, even though the Senate proposal exempts family transactions.
Meanwhile, the NRA has made sure that lawmakers like Hagan hear from its members every week.
"The NRA has such deep grass roots," one longtime proponent of gun control told me. "They have made their members feel that they are the last remaining bulwark to protect the 2nd Amendment. The members believe it's their duty."
Support for stricter gun controls is far broader, but not nearly as deep. A variety of organizations, including one led by former Rep.
But the results of those efforts remain uncertain. The pro-gun-control camp is divided by disagreements over how far to compromise. Fans of the assault weapons ban are angry at Senate Majority Leader
As a result, the debate in the Senate later this month is shaping up as an epic in three acts.
First, Reid and Sen.
Next, on the Senate floor, Sen.
And, finally, five
Since any bill that survives that gantlet then goes to the conservative-dominated
If the NRA succeeds in blocking universal background checks that are supported by at least 85% of Americans, shame on it. But shame on the measure's supporters, too — for failing to beat the NRA at its own game: making legislators fear the consequences if they vote the wrong way.