The left and the media have seized on recent tragic shootings to make a renewed push for gun control legislation. None of the proposed measures being discussed would have prevented the recent tragedies, but the left sees these as a necessary first step to broader restrictions on gun rights. Their biggest challenge, however, is not the powerful NRA, but the electoral map. The coming 2014 elections make it very unlikely any gun control legislation will pass the Senate.
In 2014, Democrats will again face a threat to their control of the Senate. Senators who last won election in the Obama wave year of 2008 will be up for reelection. Democrats will be defending 20 seats against the GOP, which is defending 13. With the exception of Maine, all of the GOP seats are in crimson Red states. Democrats, however, will be defending turf in potentially inhospitable territory.
Democrats will be defending seats in seven deeply Red states: Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia. They will also be defending seats in several very competitive states: Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon and Virginia. Sen. Carl Levin hasn’t announced whether he will seek reelection, creating a possible open seat in Michigan.
Midterm elections have lower turnout than Presidential elections. As a consequence, highly motivated issue voters can have an outsized impact on the results. In 2002, the GOP made large gains due to strong support for Bush’s response to the 9/11 attacks. In 2006, growing opposition to the war in Iraq handed Democrats congressional majorities. In 2010, the rise of the tea party and opposition to ObamaCare ushered in an historic win for the GOP. If the left continues its push, 2014 could become a “gun election.”
A sustained push for gun control legislation would put several Senate Democrats in a politically tough position. Supporters of gun rights have proven to be highly motivated voters. For them, the gun issue is far more important than it is for voters who support gun restrictions. There is a reason the Democrats didn’t push gun control for the two years they dominated government after the 2008 elections.
A raw political calculus makes it very unlikely any real gun control legislation makes it out of the Senate. Democrats may express to the cameras that they believe in gun control. But, they believe in their majority control more.