I called Gross on Thursday, the day after the background- check plan was blocked in the Senate, to see if he was wavering on the Second Amendment. He was surprisingly upbeat for the leader of a movement that had just been so comprehensively stymied. He thinks the country is with the Brady Campaign, and not with the NRA, and he said a debate about the Constitution wouldn’t be helpful.
“Turning this into a Second Amendment issue will hurt our cause,” he said. “The Second Amendment has been decided. The fact is, there is a limited right to bear arms, and we have to deal with that. There are a lot of people in our community of organizations and activists seeking gun reform who thought that the decision yesterday was devastating, but I think it has created an opportunity to move the discussion forward, and we don’t need a discussion about the Second Amendment in order to move forward.”
I detected the presence of spin in his words, so I asked him for proof that Wednesday’s obvious defeat contained the seeds of later victory. “We got a majority of senators with us, including six senators with ‘A’ ratings from the NRA,” he said. “The winds are shifting. The American public wants this.”
He went on: “I get what you’re suggesting about the constitutional issue, but I will never abandon an issue that enjoys 90 percent support among the American public. There’s no need to open up the Second Amendment debate because of that support. I mean, we have polls that show that background checks are literally more popular than kittens and baseball. We’ll get there. We don’t need to change the basis of our arguments. We need to make Congress feel the overwhelming public sentiment.”
I wish him well, but I’m not so sure. If the NRA could defeat the most mild and reasonable gun-control measure imaginable only a few short months after the most horrifying mass shooting in American history, I’m pretty sure it could do the same again in a year. This might not be an issue meant for incremental fixes. This might be an issue that needs a full philosophical vetting.
Jeffrey Goldberg is a Bloomberg View columnist.