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Sahil Kapur

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.

Articles by Sahil

Conservative senators, including two Democrats, are ratcheting up fears about a treaty the United Nations approved Tuesday to regulate global arm sales to tyrannical regimes. The lawmakers are echoing dubious claims by the National Rifle Association that it would impede gun rights in the United States.

The treaty, which received U.S. support and passed 154-3, would have no effect on domestic gun sales or laws. While it lacks a clear enforcement mechanism, its aim is to crack down on the sale of weapons to countries with poor human rights records -- which is why only Iran, North Korea and Syria voted against it.

But the politically charged mix of guns and U.N. action is fertile soil for NRA-fueled paranoia, and pro-gun senators -- either concerned about a gun-lobby backlash or supportive of NRA's broader efforts -- are racing to stoke it.

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Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) says she has received multiple death threats over legislation she is working on to make sure gun owners have insurance.

"Yesterday, several death threats were phoned into my New York office in response to news reports about a bill I authored requiring gun owners to have insurance," the congresswoman said in a statement Wednesday morning. "The calls were fielded by young interns, who were understandably shaken by this experience."

Maloney told the New York Daily News that the threats came in three menacing phone calls, which left her so disturbed she ended up missing a planned awards dinner Tuesday night.

"They said they were going to kill me," she told the paper.

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Fair warning: when a gun-friendly senator or public figure claims to support stronger background checks for firearm purchases, they may not mean what you think they mean.

Pro-gun conservative lawmakers and a top National Rifle Association figure insist that they're open to background checks -- but that doesn't mean they want to close any loopholes for people to avoid criminal checks prior to obtaining a gun.

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White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer fears that some in Washington may be getting "cold feet" on gun control.

"Universal background checks -- they're a 90 percent issue. There may be people in Washington who might be getting cold feet who are looking for a way out of making progress here," Pfeiffer said Wednesday at a Politico Playbook breakfast. "There aren't a lot of cardinal rules in politics. One is you don't want to get on the wrong side of a 90 percent issue."

When asked if it's possible that President Obama doesn't sign any gun bill, Pfeiffer was circumspect.

"If [Republicans] decide they're going to block it they can do that," he said. "I think there will be significant political consequences for them if they make that decision."

A host of conservative legal luminaries are showering praise on President Obama's nominee to a coveted seat on the second highest court in the land.

The conservatives are vouching for Principal U.S. Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan, whom President Obama renominated to fill a seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that was vacated in 2005 by now-Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

Their support would normally bode well for a key judicial pick by a Democratic president. But Senate Republicans have indicated a desire to maintain the court's notoriously high vacancy rate -- at least as long as Obama's president. Earlier this year, they filibustered a different, widely respected Obama nominee to the same court. And so the broad ideological consensus behind Srinivasan makes it harder for Republicans to oppose his nomination without appearing as though they're abusing their advise and consent power for partisan purposes.

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A National Rifle Association-appointed official held a nationally televised briefing Tuesday to tout a 225-page report proposing armed guards in schools to make children safer.

After the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shootings, the NRA tapped Asa Hutchinson, a former congressman and Drug Enforcement Administration chief, to head up its new initiative on school safety. His recommendations fleshed out the NRA's position that the way to prevent more school shootings is to make sure armed personnel are on campus.

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Marriage equality advocates are eyeing the vote of one of the country's most predictable enemies of liberalism in a blockbuster case about the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

His support is far from certain. But it's surprisingly plausible. Though he's often derided for, and defined by, his conspicuous silence during oral arguments, Thomas' fealty to ideological first principles is stronger and more consistent than any of the other conservative justices'. And in the DOMA case, a key question has become whether marriage should be the province of states, drawing upon a federalist principle at the core of conservative legal jurisprudence.

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The leading teachers union American Federation of Teachers excoriated an NRA subgroup's proposal to place armed guards in all schools, instead calling on Congress to enact comprehensive background checks and restrictions on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.

AFT president Randi Weingarten's statement Tuesday:

“Today’s NRA proposal is a cruel hoax that will fail to keep our children and schools safe. It is simply designed to assist gun manufacturers flood the nation and our schools with more guns and large magazine clips, which will simply lead to more violence. 

“The NRA is trying to distract the American people from the real, serious gun problem we face in America. Adam Lanza broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School and fired 155 bullets into innocent children and educators in less than five minutes.  That America can’t do something to prevent future mass shootings with this kind of weaponry and ammunition is unacceptable and outrageous. The NRA proposal will do nothing to stop another gunman with similar weapons and munitions from shattering the safe sanctuary of our schools. 

“If we are serious about protecting our children and our communities, Congress must reject the NRA’s dangerous posturing and follow the lead of the Connecticut Legislature in enacting bipartisan, commonsense gun safety legislation, including comprehensive background checks, and a ban on large magazine clips and military assault weapons. These reforms would strike at the heart of America’s gun violence epidemic. ...

“How many children have to be gunned down before Congress summons the political will to act?”

President Obama's nominee to be a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Srikanth Srinivasan, will face a hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee next Wednesday, April 10 at 2:30 P.M., according to the committee.

Srinivasan, the top U.S. Deputy Solicitor General, was nominated last summer. His Senate hearings come shortly after threatened Republican filibusters forced the withdrawal of Caitlin Halligan to the coveted court. Four of 11 seats are vacant on the D.C. Circuit, having been mired by filibusters.

Heritage Action has officially come out against gun control legislation placed on the calendar by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) which includes universal background checks.

The right-wing advocacy group is scoring votes and urging members to vote No.

"The bill’s 'universal background check' is better understood as a 'gun tax,'" Heritage Action said in a statement. It also said the legislation violates the Second Amendment:

In totality, the bill will not only fail to achieve the desired results, but by infringing on American’s constitutional right to keep and bear arms, it also fails to protect citizens’ right to self-defense.  Passage of “feel good” legislation will not make our communities or children safe because it will ignore the root cause of these complex problems.  Real, enduring solutions lie at the state and local levels, and within families and communities.

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