The Campaign Spot

The NRA Will Be Scoring the Background-Check Vote

As mentioned in today’s Morning Jolt, the NRA will indeed be scoring all of the upcoming votes on background checks and gun owners. But this doesn’t necessarily mean a full-scale divorce between the NRA and the background-check co-sponsors, West Virginia Democrat Senator Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey.

Wednesday evening, Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, issued a letter that indicated that yes, the proposal would be “scored” by the organization.

In addition, the NRA will oppose any amendments offered to S. 649 that restrict fundamental Second Amendment freedoms; including, but not limited to, proposals that would ban commonly and lawfully owned firearms and magazines or criminalize the private transfer of firearms through an expansion of background checks.  This includes the misguided “compromise” proposal drafted by Senators Joe Manchin, Pat Toomey and Chuck Schumer.  As we have noted previously, expanding background checks, at gun shows or elsewhere, will not reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in their schools.  Given the importance of these issues, votes on all anti-gun amendments or proposals will be considered in NRA’s future candidate evaluations.

Rather than focus its efforts on restricting the rights of America’s 100 million law-abiding gun owners, there are things Congress can do to fix our broken mental health system; increase prosecutions of violent criminals; and make our schools safer.  During consideration of S. 649, should one or more amendments be offered that adequately address these important issues while protecting the fundamental rights of law-abiding gun owners, the NRA will offer our enthusiastic support and consider those votes in our future candidate evaluations as well.

We hope the Senate will replace the current provisions of S. 649 with language that is properly focused on addressing mental health inadequacies; prosecuting violent criminals; and keeping our kids safe in their schools.  Should it fail to do so, the NRA will make an exception to our standard policy of not “scoring” procedural votes and strongly oppose a cloture motion to move to final passage of S. 649.

I still suspect that the NRA knows that Pat Toomey is probably the best ally they’re going to get elected statewide in Pennsylvania – and that they’re pretty happy with Manchin overall, too. Perhaps the pair are destined to go into future elections with a “B” grade from the organization. (Joe Manchin spoke at the NRA convention back in 2011.)

The deal reflects some basic political realities: Toomey was elected in 2010, and so he’ll next appear before the voters in 2016, a presidential-election year with high turnout. You’ve heard Pennsylvania described as Philadelphia on one side, Pittsburgh on the other, and Alabama in the middle, but the real battleground that determines statewide elections is the Philadelphia-suburb counties. As I summarized it last cycle:

[Republicans] are increasingly optimistic about Bucks County, where about 435,000 are registered to vote. Toomey won this county over Joe Sestak in the 2010 Senate race, 53.2 percent to 46.8 percent. But the other major suburban counties, Montgomery County (with 553,104 registered voters) and Delaware County (about 395,000 registered voters) are looking like tougher nuts to crack for Republicans this cycle, compared with Bucks County.

These are classic “soccer mom” suburban counties, and the Philadelphia Inquirer is a big media influence here. It is a tough corner of the state in which to sell an uncompromising stance on gun issues.

Toomey needs to be able to say that after Sandy Hook, he did his best to do something — particularly if or when, God forbid, there is another horrific massacre in 2016. Whether or not the bill passes is almost immaterial; he just needs to be seen by those soccer moms as a guy who tried his best to work out a bipartisan compromise to slightly lessen the odds of another massacre. As a Second Amendment fan, you don’t have to like that, but you do have to recognize it.

So when you see folks like Jacob Sullum write . . .

. . . it is hard to see a logical connection between the Newtown murders and the proposal offered by Manchin and Toomey. But that does not matter, because it makes them feel as if they are doing something to prevent such crimes. And isn’t that what laws are for, to make legislators feel better? President Obama certainly seems to think so. Notice that Manchin implicitly endorses Obama’s view that anyone who fails to support new gun controls does not have “a good conscience.”

The cold, hard truth is that yes, this and almost all legislation relating to guns is meant to make lawmakers and the public feel like they’ve done something. Because as we’ve all noted, the only policy that could have prevented Sandy Hook was confiscation of all privately held firearms. But when lawmakers in suburban districts go back and do their town hall meetings, they need to say either A) see, I passed “X” or B) I tried to pass “X.” They will get these questions the next time some lunatic goes on a spree-killing.

Anyway, Toomey summarizes:


The bill will not take away anyone’s guns.

The bill will not ban any type of firearm.

The bill will not ban or restrict the use of any kind of bullet or any size clip or magazine.

The bill will not create a national registry; in fact, it specifically makes it illegal to establish any such registry.

The bill will not, in any way at all, infringe upon the Constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.

At Red State, Erick Erickson disputes that, contending that the way the bill is written, doctors can add their patients to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and suggests that they can be added for no real reason. 

The provision could spur a debate on just who should be able to determine if someone is psychologically imbalanced in a way that makes them a threat to others. As I have mentioned in previous Jolts, the only person who can currently place a person on the can’t-buy-a-gun list is a judge. If you see or encounter someone who behaves in a manner that makes you think they’re likely to go on a shooting spree, your employer, school principal, or university administrator can’t do a darn thing about it (other than involve law enforcement and try to get that person before a judge). Sometimes a psychiatrist can explicitly tell the police that her patient had confessed homicidal thoughts and was a danger to the public, as in the case of the Aurora shooter, and the police will do nothing.


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