|Gun Control Could Kill Senate’s Democratic Majority|
By Ashton Ellis
Wednesday, March 20 2013
What gives Congress the power to think it can treat the Second Amendment like a second-class right?
That was the essential question hanging over a tense exchange between U.S. Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) over the latter’s proposed assault weapons ban.
Here is a transcript of the tussle in the Senate Judiciary Committee where both are members:
SENATOR TED CRUZ (R-TX): The question that I would pose to the senior Senator from California is would she deem it consistent with the Bill of Rights for Congress to engage in the same endeavor that we are contemplating doing with the Second Amendment in the context of the First or Fourth Amendment, namely, would she consider it constitutional for Congress to specify that the First Amendment shall apply only to the following books and shall not apply to the books that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights?
Likewise, would she think that the Fourth Amendment's protection against searches and seizures could properly apply only to the following specified individuals and not to the individuals that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights?
SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): Let me just make a couple of points in response. One, I'm not a sixth grader. Senator, I've been on this committee for 20 years. I was a mayor for nine years. I walked in, I saw people shot. I've looked at bodies that have been shot with these weapons. I've seen the bullets that implode. In Sandy Hook, youngsters were dismembered.
Look, there are other weapons. I'm not a lawyer, but after 20 years I've been up close and personal to the Constitution. I have great respect for it. This doesn't mean that weapons of war and the Heller decision clearly points out three exceptions, two of which are pertinent here.
You know, it's fine you want to lecture me on the Constitution. I appreciate it. Just know I've been here for a long time. I've passed on a number of bills. I've studied the Constitution myself. I am reasonably well educated, and I thank you for the lecture.
Lots of people commented on the exchange, but it’s certain that none were more important than the fifteen Democratic senators – so far, unnamed – who saw Feinstein’s performance and told Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that they would not vote for her bill if it came to the floor.
With fifty-five senators aligned with the Senate Democratic caucus (fifty-three Democrats and two Independents), Reid’s whip count means Feinstein has a huge amount of work to do if she wants to avoid a very public embarrassment.
Taking Reid’s number as a baseline, Feinstein needs at least eleven additional votes to get a simple majority of fifty-one. But because Republicans like Cruz will likely filibuster, she really needs twenty more votes to get to sixty and cut off debate. Since that number would require complete caucus unity and five Republicans, it’s a safe bet that Feinstein’s assault weapons ban will be dead on arrival if she offers it as an amendment.
Though Senate liberals like Feinstein have gotten tremendous media coverage and support for their politicized use of the tragic Newtown school shooting to push through bottled-up gun control legislation, it’s worth analyzing how badly they misjudged support in their own caucus.
In hindsight, Feinstein’s inability to respond with anything more than indignation to Cruz’s question provided zero cover for vulnerable red state Democrats facing reelection in 2014.
Democrats are defending twenty of the Senate’s thirty-three seats up for election next year. Of those, five incumbents come from states President Barack Obama lost overwhelmingly in 2012.
The senators and Obama’s vote percentages are Max Baucus of Montana (41.7 percent), Mary Landrieu of Louisiana (40.6 percent), Mark Begich of Alaska (40.8 percent), Tim Johnson of South Dakota (39.9 percent), and Mark Pryor of Arkansas (36.9 percent).
Part of what makes those states so red is their resistance to gun control measures in any form, let alone an outright ban on specific guns sought by Feinstein.
A ranking by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a leading gun control advocacy group, scores states on how much their laws restrict citizens’ access to firearms. On a 100 point scale, Alaska scores 0, Louisiana 2, Montana 2, Arkansas 4 and South Dakota 4.
The most common law that nets points among these states is one that does not “force” colleges to allow firearms on campus. Not exactly electorates poised to reward politicians for imposing a federal ban on guns that are otherwise legal in their states.
Other Democratic senators also recognize a political loser when they see it. Kay Hagan of North Carolina saw Mitt Romney win her state by 2 percentage points in 2012, as well as Republicans retaking the governorship for the first time in twenty years.
Senators like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Montana’s Jon Tester, though not up for reelection in 2014, are nonetheless desperately looking for ways to distance themselves from a lame duck President whose liberal positions cut into their support. Opposing Feinstein’s assault weapons ban is an easy call; especially when the best response California’s anti-gun zealot can muster to Cruz is, “I’m not a sixth grader.”
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