The dust had barely settled on the Senate's vote to shortstop the GOP filibuster against the compromise deal that some GOP and conservative Democratic senators brokered on the gun control bill before other GOP and conservative Democratic senators began pecking away at it. The deal was to support background checks for private gun sales, and other lessor gun curb measures. The list of ways that these senators can dither, delay, and dodge always with the goal of killing the bill is dizzying. They will spend the more than two dozen hours they're allowed before debate actually begins on the bill to make the same endless arguments that the NRA has made for years that the bill does nothing to stop the carnage on the nation's city streets or the next lone nut shooter from massacring kids at a school. Next, they'll toss every amendment they can think of to gut the bill while at the same time stretching out the time it takes to debate them. To become law, it will take 60 votes, and the longer the clock ticks and the longer the debate goes will play directly into the bill's opponent's hands.
There are two other things that will make passage of the bill intact a close call. The first is how the NRA rates senators and congresspersons that buck it. It grades senators and congresspersons from A to F on their vote on gun legislation. Few, if any, GOP senators in years past have dared to risk bucking the NRA and back tougher gun control curbs. Since the expiration of the assault weapon ban in 2004, the nearly two dozen bills that have been introduced in the House and Senate to stiffen gun laws have all been defeated. In nearly every case, they did not even make it to the House or Senate floor for a vote.
The second problem is the 2014 mid-term elections. Though the NRA was hazy at first on whether it would give the senators that agreed to the background check compromise, a failing grade, or any grade, Heritage Action, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation, that opposes the compromise, said that it would grade senators on the legislation. The NRA now says that it will grade senators on their final vote on the bill. And with a number of GOP congresspersons and senators up for reelection in 2014, many in conservative strongholds, almost certainly their vote would be a campaign issue against them by a Tea Party backed challenger, and there will be challenges. Even to survive the challenge, they would have to spend tons of money, time, and energy, assuring one and all that they are not an avid foe of gun owners.
The compromise background check was taken by some as a sign the NRA's grip on Congress may be loosening, that may be wishful thinking. The NRA has been wildly successful in browbeating Congress for the past decade through its well-oiled, well-versed, labyrinth of PACs, lobbyists, legal counsels, divisions, funds, and a foundation. The NRA has these divisions: Federal Affairs, Public Affairs, Finance, Research & Information, Conservation, Wildlife & Natural Resources and most importantly the NRA Political Victory Fund.
It has ranked in the top tier of contributions received, lobbying dollars spent, and money garnered and spent by its PACs. But it's not just the NRA's money and willingness to spend it to pack Congress with pro-gun backers. The NRA has gotten a stupendous return on the $17 million it spent on federal elections in 2012 and the tens of millions it spent on past elections. It will spend millions more on the 2014 elections.
But even before the pack of GOP and conservative Democratic senators started their war hoops against the background checks measure in the current bill, the NRA's lobbying had already paid big dividends. In March, Senate Democrats threw in the towel on the one curb that the overwhelming majority of Americans want to see and that's the full reinstatement, this time permanently, of the assault weapons ban. This will not be in any bill that the Senate or House eventually debates. The best trump card for the NRA, though, is time. This is time that it will use ferociously publicly and behind the scenes to try and kill the bill.
The agreement to back near universal background checks on gun sales was a hopeful signal that at least some previous hardcore congressional gun lobby shills finally got the message that an aroused public wants action -- any action -- to pass long thwarted meaningful gun control curbs. But that's hardly enough to stop the NRA's terror campaign against Congress. If anything, it has kicked it into high gear.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent political commentator on MSNBC and a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.