Background-check opponents on the defensive

Background-check opponents on the defensive
Background-check opponents on the defensive
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It’s been nearly four weeks since a Republican filibuster blocked a bipartisan compromise on gun reforms, including expanded background checks, and the prevailing political winds appear to be blowing in a progressive direction.

How can we tell? Consider who’s feeling confident – and who isn’t.

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake told CNN he is willing to reverse his opposition to expanding background checks for guns if the Senate sponsors change on the bill’s provision dealing with internet sales.

Flake said the only reason he voted no was because of his concern that the requirement for background checks on internet sales is too costly and inconvenient, given the way guns are often sold among friends in his state of Arizona and others.

He said under the measure as written, if a gun owner sends a few friends a text or email asking if they want to buy their gun, or posts it on their Facebook page, “that is considered a commercial sale.”

The substance behind Flake’s concerns seems rather superficial, but what strikes me as interesting is the fact that the senator is backpedaling at all – after his support for the Republican filibuster, Flake saw his support plummet among his constituents. Instead of saying, “I’m confident I did the right thing,” we see the Arizona Republican effectively saying, “On second thought….”

Indeed, Flake rejected his party line yesterday, saying he sees no value in the GOP talking point about a national registry. “I know that is not what this bill does, just the opposite,” Flake said.

The freshman from Arizona isn’t the only one feeling defensive.

In New Hampshire, for example, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) has a new op-ed today talking about how much she likes background checks. If she were confident about the political implications of her vote last month, would his op-ed have been written? I rather doubt it.

In Arkansas, Sen. Mark Pryor (D) is so worried about negative ads from the Bloomberg-funded Mayors Against Illegal Guns that Senate Democratic leaders have asked the group to be a little less aggressive. The group declined.

And on Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) seems to believe last month’s defeat was a temporary setback that may yet be reversed.

Senate Democrats believe that they have several new votes in favor of a bill that would expand background checks for gun buyers, after weeks in which those who opposed the legislation faced strong political backlash at home.

The additional votes would still put the bill, a bipartisan compromise sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), shy of the 60 necessary for passage. And tellingly, no one boasting of growing support would reveal the names of those lawmakers ready to flip.

But the bullish talk from Democrats – from leadership on down – is yet another indication that the party feels good about the fallout from the failed gun vote and is increasingly eager to try again.

Reid did not specify how close he and his allies might be to 60 votes, but he told the Las Vegas Review Journal, “Joe Manchin called me yesterday. He thinks he has a couple more votes…. We may only need three additional Republicans. So we’ll see.”

The combination of polls, public pushback, and Bloomberg-funded ads appears to be changing the nature of the debate. Round 2 may have seemed like a pipedream a month ago, but it’s increasingly plausible now.

Update: Greg Sargent reported yesterday that Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) now appears to be another vote that is in play. Isakson, it’s worth noting, is retiring at the end of the term.

Jeff Flake and Background Checks

Background-check opponents on the defensive