WASHINGTON -- The Senate next week plans votes on a wide-ranging series of gun control measures, the first time in years lawmakers will go on the record on major steps to curb gun violence, such as banning assault weapons and restricting the size of magazine clips.
Though the Senate agreed Thursday on a bipartisan vote to begin debate, such measures face uncertain prospects, and it could be difficult to pass any strong legislation backed by gun control supporters.
The gun lobby is powerful, and many lawmakers represent constituencies where gun rights are sacred. And anything the Senate does must get through a House of Representatives run by conservative Republicans wary of stricter gun controls.
“Votes on all anti-gun amendments or proposals will be considered in NRA’s future candidate evaluations,” wrote National Rifle Association lobbyist Chris Cox in a letter to senators signaling plans to “score” them, a way of reminding voters who’s on the side of gun rights.
As the gun bill gets debated, the outcome will depend on a lot of nuance and compromise.
“Details matter so much,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
Gun control advocates look closely at what they see as openings that could become loopholes. Gun rights backers worry that almost any kind of restriction is the first step in dramatically curbing their rights.
And, as Collins, who is up for re-election next year, illustrated, no state is monolithic. In northern Maine, she said, the gun culture is well-ingrained. In the southern part of the state, more urban and suburban, constituents worry more about random violence.
The only strategy for deciding how to vote, she said, is “listen to the people of Maine,” and not interest groups such as the NRA or, on the other side, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, spearheaded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Sen. Mark Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat who also is up for re-election and was one of two Senate Democrats voting against moving forward with debate , was more succinct: “I don’t take gun advice from the mayor of New York City. I listen to Arkansans.”
Congress last passed major gun control legislation in 1994, when it agreed to a 10-year ban on many assault weapons. Since then, fear of political repercussions has largely stifled any efforts to even debate such measures.
That changed because of a series of horrific incidents, capped by a gunman’s Dec. 14 killing of 26 people, including 20 schoolchildren, at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. And for the first time since the Clinton administration, the White House got heavily involved in leading the fight for tougher gun laws.
The push will continue throughout this weekend and into next week.
President Barack Obama will continue pressing Congress to take up gun control, turning over delivery of his weekly radio/video address Saturday to Francine Wheeler, whose 6-year-old son, Ben, was killed in the Newtown massacre.
Obama – who flew some of the families from Newtown down to Washington on Air Force One to lobby members of Congress – asked Wheeler to tape the address because he “believes (the families’) voices and resolve have been critical to the continued progress we’ve seen in the Senate,” Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday.
Meanwhile, a group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was planning a series of “Stroller Jams” outside the local offices of senators in several states, including Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington. The group also encouraged supporters to use social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.