Put simply, the 2014 Senate elections will be fought predominantly on the very turf that is most inhospitable to gun control–Southern and Mountain West conservative states. It’s no coincidence that three of the four Democrats who opposed the Toomey-Manchin bill are facing difficult reelections in 2014 and presumably are attuned to the sentiments of their constituents. Blame the National Rifle Association for the bill’s failure, but the lobby is feeding into already deeply held opposition to gun regulations and a broader sense of anxiety about the president’s and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s intentions–particularly given the president’s past publicized remark about “bitter” rural voters who “cling to their guns and religion.” It doesn’t take much for the gun-rights crowd, significant in these states, to jump to inaccurate conclusions given that history.
And how do the White House or allied groups plan on punishing gun-control opponents? The notion of challenging the Second Amendment Democrats is as fanciful as it is self-defeating. Democratic primary voters in the deep South have significantly different views on gun rights than their coastal counterparts. Even if they support expanded background checks, the chance of landing a candidate running a one-issue campaign against brand-name Democrats like Mark Pryor and Mark Begich defies common sense. Three years ago in Arkansas, liberals poured their money and manpower in to defeat former Sen. Blanche Lincoln in a primary with the state’s lieutenant governor. Even though Lincoln was unpopular in the state–later losing reelection to Republican Sen. John Boozman by 21 points–she fended off the challenge.Polls showed overwhelming national support for expanded background checks, so could Republicans suffer instead? Probably not. Except for passionate supporters of the Second Amendment, the issue is not a top priority for most Americans, as Gallup explains:
The 4% of Americans mentioning guns as the nation's top problem is the same as it was last month, and comparable to the 6% in February and 4% in January and December, the last measure having been taken just after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Prior to these past several months, in recent years virtually no Americans mentioned guns as the nation's top problem.
Americans have never been highly likely to mention guns or gun violence as the nation's top problems, even in the aftermath of other tragic mass shootings. Ten percent of Americans said guns or gun violence were the nation's top problems in May 1999, a month after the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado -- and that was the highest percentage mentioning "guns" in Gallup's history of asking the question.