Universal background check for gun buyers
 not dead yet, but it's breathing is ragged.
Three months ago, in the immediate aftermath of the 12/14 Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school slaughter, quite a few Democratic senators were on the fence about an assault weapons ban. Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who had previously opposed a ban, seemed ambivalent. And he promised it would get a vote on the Senate floor. Not that any close observer thought the ban ever had a chance to avoid a Republican filibuster.

But Reid's remarks Tuesday were striking when he announced he was cutting loose the ban proposed in January by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. He said the ban didn't even have 40 supporting votes in the Senate. That means at least 13 Democrats wouldn't support it, which means that some who indicated they were probably for it back in December and January have bailed.

The question is, have a crucial number also expressed opposition to a universal background check on all gun purchases, both from licensed dealers and private sellers? It sounds as if some may have.

Nothing will happen on gun legislation until after the Easter recess. Reid plans to return in April with a diluted package of gun-control measures. Most likely this will include a bill that would make gun trafficking a felony and mandate tougher penalties for it, and another to extend more federal support for school safety. Those two bills, both voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, would be merged into a single piece of legislation. The assault weapons ban and a limit on the capacity of gun magazines would only be considered as amendments, Reid told Feinstein to her consternation on Monday.

It's not yet certain where the universal background checks will appear. Part of the main proposal, or only as an amendment? Can a proposal supported in poll after poll by around 90 percent of the American public, including gun-owners and members of the National Rifle Association, actually be in trouble?

In this regard, Alex Koppelman at The New Yorker raises an interesting point:

In order to trade a ban for background checks, gun-control advocates probably needed to show that there was at least a slim chance a ban could become law. They’ve failed to do that. So now what reason do moderate Republicans—whose votes will be necessary in both the Senate and the House—have to buck their party and vote for background-check legislation that the N.R.A. strongly opposes? What reason do Democrats in battleground states and districts have to put their reëlection on the line? That it’s the right thing to do? That most people in the U.S. support it? These things have never been enough.
A universal background check law isn't dead yet. But it is clearly on life support. And probably any legislation along that line will be weakened by Republican opposition to including any record-keeping as part of it. Record-keeping is seen by gun-rights advocates as a prelude to gun confiscation. That's so even though records have been kept of registered machine-guns for 78 years, and the only such weapons confiscated are those whose owners committed felonies. A background check law for private gun sales without any record-keeping would be ineffective, according to its leading sponsor, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York as well as other gun-control advocates. Indeed, such a measure without any record-keeping isn't worth passing.

Three months ago, it seemed unthinkable to all but a few observers that the only new gun legislation that would emerge from the Newtown slaughter would be lukewarm addendums to what is already being done. Unthinkable that the most sensible legislation imaginable, running background checks on everybody seeking to buy a gun, might not be able to find a majority in the U.S. Senate.

But that was when even people solidly familiar with the political clout of the National Rifle Association figured the organization would be gravely weakened by the tragedy in Newtown together with the clumsy, in-your-face response of its executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre. After all, the NRA's millions in campaign contributions in 2012 had produced a pitiful result. But the gun industry's mouthpiece has proved that it remains a thoroughly formidable foe and quite capable of victories even with the blood of 20 dead first-graders still wet in our memories.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Wed Mar 20, 2013 at 01:17 PM PDT.

Also republished by Shut Down the NRA, Repeal or Amend the Second Amendment (RASA), and Daily Kos.

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