A group of Democrats in Congress, led by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California and Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York, will follow through on President Obama’s gun control plan today and introduce a bill to reinstate the assault weapons ban of 1994. From there, it’s pretty much out of their control. The proposals have nothing to do with erasing the Second Amendment — certain high-powered weapons will be banned and magazines will be maxed out at ten rounds, but exceptions will be built in for hunting and those who already own such firearms — but try telling that to the rest of America. While the Republican-led House is a real long shot, even Democrats in the Senate are extremely skeptical.
Democrats control 55 out of 100 votes in the Senate, and barring a significant change to the filibuster rule, supporters of the gun control measure would need all of those votes – plus five Republican votes – to pass the bill. That’s a tall order: At least five Senate Democrats have declined to take a position on the president’s proposal, and there is only one Republican in the Senate - Mark Kirk of Illinois - who supports an assault weapons ban.
Take Senator Joe “Dead Aim” Manchin of West Virginia. After the shooting in Newtown, the conservative Democrat, who has an “A” grade from the NRA and literally shot a bill with a rifle in a campaign ad, said he would support the assault weapons ban.
A month later, not so much. The New York Times checks in with Manchin today, as he sat down with his constituents in West Virginia, some of whom picketed his office after he announced he would consider such a bill. “A guy can walk through this door right here with your Beretta five-shot automatic, and cut the barrel off at 16 inches, and put five double-ought buckshots in there and kill everybody in here in a matter of seconds,” one voter explained. “And you don’t have to aim it.”
Another offered, “I can take my A.R., load it, put one in the chamber and throw it up on this table, and the only way it’s going to hurt anybody is if I miss and hit someone in the head. The gun doesn’t hurt anybody. It’s the person pulling the trigger.”
That’s pretty much all Manchin needed to hear: “I’m not there,” he told the Times about the ban. “I’m definitely more inclined to be very supportive of background checks.” And he’s not even up for reelection in 2014, like Democrats in Montana, Alaska, and Colorado, all of whom initially expressed openness to the ban and have since ran it back.
A recent poll found that 58 percent of Americans supported the ban, while 39 percent opposites it, and even 45 percent of households that own a gun were in favor. But that doesn’t mean the votes are there. “I understand how difficult this is,” said Feinstein. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”