Republicans For Gun Control Aren't Easy To Find, Unless This One Thing Is On The Line
In an unfortunately familiar development, the Senate rejected four different gun control measures on June 20. Democrats and Republicans had proposed competing bills in the wake of the Orlando shooting, but none were able to muster enough votes to pass through the Senate. Although the bills were mostly rejected along party lines, a couple of GOP Senators — vulnerable ones who are up for reelection this year — voted for the Democratic bills. It seems the only way to get Republicans to vote for gun control is to threaten their jobs.
Senate Democrats proposed two bills, one which would have established a universal background check system and one to ban individuals on the FBI’s terror watch list from purchasing guns. Both were rejected by Senate Republicans — well, most of the Senate Republicans.
Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Mark Kirk (R-IL.) broke with their party and voted for the Democratic proposals. And they have one thing in common: they're up for reelection this year. And both are struggling to gain traction in their races. Kirk is neck-and-neck with his Democratic opponent, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, while Ayotte is trailing Gov. Maggie Hassan by about two points.
Both Kirk and Ayotte were swept into office in 2010, a wave year for Republicans. But neither New Hampshire nor Illinois are particularly red states; this could explain why they might feel the need to shift to the left on a high-profile issue like gun control when they're about to face reelection.
While it’s nice that a gun control bill received something resembling bipartisan support, the reasoning behind this bipartisanship is not a cause for celebration. In essence, Kirk and Ayotte voted for these bills to avoid losing their jobs — it's possible that they think they will gain support from Democratic voters if they vote for a bill proposed by Democrats. This is especially true of Ayotte, who, interestingly, voted against a similar bill which would have banned people on terror watch lists from buying guns back in December.
But it’s pure coincidence that two Republican Senators from blue-ish states happened to be up for reelection the same year that gun control reemerged as a hot-button national issue (and thus was put to a vote in the senate). And it’s worth noting that another vulnerable swing state senator, Rob Portman, voted against the gun reforms with his colleagues. This suggests that even the risk of electoral defeat isn’t always enough to get a Republican to vote for gun reform.
Senate Democrats were able to get a couple of Republicans to vote for increased gun restrictions, and that’s not nothing. But this was only due to happenstance, not some grand legislative strategy which can be replicated in the future. Congress is just as deadlocked on guns as it’s ever been.