Week In Politics: Why Gun Control Failed In The Senate

Robert Siegel talks to regular political commentators E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of The New York Times. They discuss gun control legislation.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Joining us now are our Friday political regulars, David Brooks of the New York Times and E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Good to see you both.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to see you.

SIEGEL: Throughout today's program, we're hearing about Boston, the bombings, the manhunt. Let's leave that to the rest of our staff and talk about things that happened in Washington this week, which were pretty momentous, especially about guns. David, what happened?

BROOKS: Well, I confess I was surprised. I thought something would pass on the gun issue. You know, there's always been an underlying structure to the gun debate, which is the people who oppose gun control vote on the issue, and the people who support it generally don't. And that's been the reason people have generally not tried to introduce legislation.

After Sandy Hook, it seemed like that underlying structure had changed. I think we learned this week it hadn't.

SIEGEL: Leaving aside what might have happened in the House, E.J., in the Senate it was two freshmen who undertook the task of writing an amendment: Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the Democrat; Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Was it perhaps a task too great for two rookies, or could no two senators have been capable of gotten agreement - of getting agreement?

E.J. DIONNE: Well, I only have respect for the two of them because they were really trying to get something done. They both had A ratings from the NRA, and most of their colleagues just didn't have the guts that they did. They said, look, this is a very narrow idea but it's helpful. The people who care about preventing gun violence know that background checks might do more than anything to prevent violence or at least reduce violence.

And what was really striking is that a lot of senators who said after Newtown, we're ready to vote for background checks, they all went south. I think the real question here is whether the newly - the resurgent movement for gun control, which really finally got organized for this fight, decides to continue. And I think there's enough anger about how this vote went that I don't think this movement's going away.

So I think there are going to start to be electoral consequences for people who voted against this and I think there's going to be a lot more organizing.

SIEGEL: But electoral consequences, David, would mean that, you know, in 2014 there will be talk about guns again. Is the issue essentially dead for now?

BROOKS: Yes, and I really don't think there will be electoral consequences. I just think, especially in red states, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, all the political pressure is to oppose these gun control measures. It has been and remains sort of a cultural issue.

A lot of people see it, especially in rural places, they see it as urban coastal people trying to impose values. And I think if you want to pass this kind of measure, you really had to start from the red part of America and then go to the blue America. And having people like Michael Bloomberg and Barack Obama leading the charge wasn't helpful because I think it re-aroused some of these cultural symbols around the issue.

DIONNE: Right, because it should not be a cultural issue. If there's any cultural issue here, it's about reducing - fighting against the culture of violence in our country. And I think some of the fighting will start in the red states. I'm not sure it's dead yet. Harry Reid switched his vote so he could bring it up again. And there's going to be real opposition to the fact that 54 senators representing 63 percent of the American people voted yes.

And to have this go down without even a real filibuster, I think, opens the way to reconsider this another time.

SIEGEL: In the minute that remains, what's the omen here if indeed after a movement that was spurred by the mass murder of children couldn't bring about a bipartisan amendment, or at least a cloture vote, what does that say about immigration, David?

BROOKS: Well, I think you have to be more pessimistic for this reason. What we saw in guns, as in immigration, is a very focused minority opposing a broad and fragile bipartisan coalition trying to defend a compromise piece of legislation none of them are thrilled with.

And in those situations, often the focused minority ends up winning that fight.

DIONNE: I think people who support immigration reform who were rather optimistic a week ago now know the forces they could be up against. About that I agree with David because I think that there are lots of pieces, moving parts to immigration reform, and the opposition is going to concentrate on particular pieces that they're going to try to tear down.

But the difference is a very large part of the Republican Party really would like to pass immigration reform because they saw what a paltry percentage of the Latino vote they got in the last election. And so, I think the politics of immigration reform may turn out to be easier, but still there's anxiety now that didn't exist before.

BROOKS: Yeah, I agree. The Republicans were not divided on guns; they are divided on immigration. And really, the future of the soul of the Republican Party is going to be settled on this issue.

SIEGEL: David Brooks of the New York Times, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, thanks to both of you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is NPR.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.