Greg Sargent reported yesterday that only ten members of Congress have signed their names to a statement the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence distributed several weeks ago (i.e., before the Aurora gun massacre). The statement doesn’t ask senators or representatives to pledge their support for banning assault weapons or for regulating the purchase of high-capacity magazines. It simply addresses categories of individuals who should not have access to guns:
I believe these people should not be able to buy, own, or carry a gun anywhere in our nation:
· Convicted felons
· Convicted domestic abusers
· People found to be dangerously mentally ill
At the same time, a poll of NRA members and other gun owners that was conducted in May by Republican pollster Frank Luntz reveals broad support for some of the very same restrictions. For example, 82% of gun owners support criminal background checks for gun purchasers (74% of NRA members voiced support for background checks). Sixty-eight percent of NRA members believe that individuals who have been arrested for domestic violence should not be eligible for gun permits. And 75% of NRA members believe that concealed weapon permits should not be available to people who have committed violent misdemeanors.
The Luntz study was commissioned by the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which is chaired by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The findings are a useful reminder that the NRA’s extreme rhetoric on the topic of gun control doesn’t even necessarily reflect the beliefs of its own members.
But it’s also a reminder of how completely cowed politicians are by the NRA. I’m willing to believe that there are almost certainly more than ten members of Congress who are willing to sign the Brady statement and that the slow summer schedule of congressional offices has as much to do with the small number of signatures as fear of the gun lobby.
Even so, I believe many members of Congress worry about even associating themselves with an organization (like Brady) that the NRA dislikes. Reid Cherlin has an eye-opening post at GQ.com today about the NRA’s influence over politicians’ behavior. Here Cherlin quotes a Democratic legislative staffer describing the NRA effect:
We do absolutely anything they ask and we NEVER cross them—which includes asking permission to cosponsor any bills endorsed by the Humane Society (the answer is usually no) and complying with their demand to oppose the DISCLOSE Act, neither of which have anything to do with guns… I’m not sure when we decided that a Democrat in a marginal district who loses his A rating from the NRA automatically loses reelection. Because it’s not like we do everything other partisan organizations like the Chamber [of Commerce] or NAM [National Association of Manufacturers] tell us…
Profiles in courage.