Nope, Just Do It, Part II

TPM Reader EA asks, is there more to this than we’re seeing?

I asked you about the guns at Prime last week and wanted to share my thoughts since then and in light of JH’s skepticism.

In wondering about the politics of all this, I was struggling to figure out the WH’s logic in making suggestions about executive orders and what-not in a manner that almost has seemed to be intentionally provocative toward the grassroots right.

JH’s primary worry about the aggressive WH push on guns is that it makes it look like they’re not as interested in important progressive agenda items like immigration. I’m not so sure I agree with that particular analysis but I do wonder about their political judgment here.

The issue has gun control has become the most popular pivot point that Democrats from red states use to concretely demonstrate their willingness to buck the party. This is especially true in states where Dems are defending Senate seats in 2014 – Louisiana, Alaska, North Carolina, West Virginia, Arkansas, Montana etc. etc.,

An honest effort to pass gun control legislation that the NRA opposes and which the House GOP will most certainly stop will involve forcing vulnerable Democratic Senators to stay at home on perhaps the only big social issue that they had previously been able to freely reflect their state’s conservatism. It isn’t as though the WH is ignorant of this dynamic – Barack Obama himself is a great example of a politician who has used ambivalence toward gun control legislation as evidence of his independence, moderation, etc.

This leads me to a few theories.

The first is that they know something about the temperature of the House and Senate that we don’t: that there is room for a broad bipartisan bill that includes some elements of gun control and the fight to pass such legislation won’t cost as much political capital as we think it will.

The second is that the WH views the NRA as a really powerful enemy and that this is a too-rare opportunity to weaken them, pass gun control laws they think can meaningful protect the public, and this is totally worth the political cost.

The third is that the WH has calculated that fighting for gun control and giving Dem Senators an opportunity to scream “no” at him will help them in their districts and keep them on board for other controversial votes between now and election day.

Given what we know about House Republicans and the NRA, I simply do not see a path to passing gun regulation in any form whatsoever. I haven’t read a single work of political analysis that suggests otherwise. That’s what gets me thinking about something like theory 3. It is understandable that people feel a bit ugly about analyzing the politics of guns or “using” the gun issue for political purposes in the aftermath of the tragedy in Connecticut but now that Biden is bringing forward his recommendations, it is time to get down to brass tacks.