Does The NRA’s Current Insanity Make It Easier For Red State Dems To Support Gun Control?

by evanmcmurry

On my theory from the other day that the enthusiasm gap on gun control—in which the intensity of guns nuts gun rights advocates’ hatred of gun control overwhelms the popular majority who want moderate regulatory measures but aren’t willing to have a meltdown about it—is hurting itself by getting, er, a bit too enthusiastic, we now have the test case: red state Dems, whom the White House is lobbying, hard, for its new gun control legislation:

Part of the goal is to demonstrate support for gun-control measures in states such as West Virginia, North Dakota or Louisiana, where Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III, Heidi Heitkamp and Mary Landrieu, respectively, face strong pressure to side with pro-gun groups.

Ordinarily this is where the NRA’s inexplicable might would most damagingly assert itself, easily nixing key votes with the specter of an endless direct mail campaign about how Heidi Heitkamp wants to take your guns and melt them into steel for Obamacare. But now that the NRA is Wayne LaPierre giving such erratic post-shooting press conferences that even the Daily News and the New York Post wanted nothing to do with him, and now that guns nuts gun rights advocates are this guy, red state Dems may have an out. The NRA and its supporters have gotten so far out there that you don’t have to actually be in favor of gun control to not follow them. I don’t think it would be impossible for a red state Democratic campaign to craft a message that Heidi Heitkamp thinks guns are great but moderately regulating a guy who makes YouTube videos threatening to kill people might not be such an insane idea.

I’m not saying this an easy sell, but it’s better than the position these Dems would have been in a few years ago, when it was “side with NRA or don’t get reelected.” As Sargeant points out, some red/purple state Dems are already coming around on background checks, which may be a sign that they no longer see gun control as a prohibitive issue. Background checks do enjoy huge popular support, but again, a few years ago that would have run up against the enthusiasm gap: you may support background checks, but you’re not likely to vote on it; guns nuts gun rights advocates will. The fact that red state Dems are looking at it means they no longer fear this possibility as they once did. If we see more Dems flip on guns, it will be a sign that the intensity of the gun lobby, which has been the NRA’s trump card for the past three decades, is beginning to turn on them.