In post-Sandy Hook America, gun control gets its first test with voters

Updated
Robin Kelly celebrates her special primary election win for Illinois' 2nd Congressional District in Matteson, Ill. on Feb. 26, 2013.
Robin Kelly celebrates her special primary election win for Illinois' 2nd Congressional District in Matteson, Ill. on Feb. 26, 2013.
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

The gun control debate got its first test in a post-Sandy Hook America this week. Former state representative Robin Kelly, who ran on pro-gun control platform, crushed her opponents in the special Democratic primary election in Illinois’ second district to fill Jesse Jackson Jr.’s congressional seat, winning 52% of the vote. Her main opponent, former congresswoman Debbie Halvorson, got an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association.

In her victory speech, Kelly declared the days of the NRA “holding our country hostage are coming to an end.”

Kelly got a little help from a high-profile gun control advocate in another state. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s pro-gun control super PAC pumped nearly $2.2 million into the Chicagoland-area campaign–a factor that Halvorson blamed on her loss.

Bloomberg called Kelly’s win “an important victory for common sense leadership on gun violence, a problem that plagues the whole nation,” in a statement on Tuesday night.

But some skeptics argue the threat of gun violence won’t be on the minds of average voters in suburbia or rural areas as much as urban environments. Of course, having millions in cash to burn in an election helps any candidate running for office push a certain agenda.

New York City Deputy Mayor for Government Affairs and Communications, Howard Wolfson, defended the mayor’s involvement in the special election. “Chicago has seen a lot of gun violence, murders are up there, so this is obviously an issue of great import,” Wolfson told The Last Word. “But [gun control] was the issue in the race. It was the issue in the race before the mayor arrived.”

Bloomberg is more than willing to “provide a counterbalance to the NRA in a race like this” and others, according to Wolfson. “For a very long time, the NRA had the field to itself on this issue, they dominated the discussion…and for the first time in a very long time, perhaps ever, there is a countervailing force.”

Vice President Joe Biden said Illinois voters sent a message loud and clear to the NRA and politicians around the country: the majority of Americans want gun more control.

“For the first time since Newtown, voters sent a clear unequivocal signal,” Biden told a group of state attorney generals gathered in Washington on Wednesday. “The message is there will be a moral price as well as a political price to be paid for inaction. This is not 1994. People know too much.”

Biden’s comments came on the same day as the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on renewing the 1994 assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.

Parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School victims gave emotional testimony, asking Congress to ban semi-automatic weapons and high capacity magazines. Dr. William Begg, the medical director of the EMS team that responded to the Newtown massacre, told lawmakers “this is a tipping point” on guns. “People say that the overall number of assault weapon deaths is relatively small. But you know what? Please don’t tell that to the people of Tucson or Aurora or Columbine or Virginia Tech. And don’t tell that to the people of Newtown.”

The Obama administration has been aggressively pushing new control laws, including a ban on assault weapons like the kind used in the Newtown shooting. And the president wants to limit the number of ammunition used in magazine clips, as well as to expand background checks for gun buyers (right now, it’s not a requirement for those that purchase guns through a private seller).

A newly released NBC/WSJ poll found 61% favor stricter gun sale laws – that’s up five points from January.

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In post-Sandy Hook America, gun control gets its first test with voters

Updated