Gun Control Debate Has Some Democrats Caught Between Constituents and Party


Gun control is an issue which has stagnated in Congress many times before. Even the progress made in 1994, banning certain varieties of assault weapons, was allowed to lapse in 2004 and has since been left to lie in the legislative garbage heap.

Before and since very limited concessions have been gained, leaving guns mostly in the hands of the American people as the symbol of their freedom. Currently, Obama is picking up the mantle of gun control and attempting to push restrictions on gun types, magazine size, and customers through Congress. The difficulty lies in convincing everyone else that it is a fight worth the political capital they risk in joining his side.

The one encouraging fact is that the Democrats still hold on to their majority in the Senate, vulnerable to filibusters though it may be. However, as Obama enters the quagmire of gun control legislation, he may lose the support he needs from the upper house to make his efforts bear fruit. There is not a consensus among the Senate Democrats in support of Obama’s proposals. Most notably in fact, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has expressed at best lukewarm sentiments towards the proposals.

An analysis of which Democrats are likely to withhold their support requires looking at two things: upcoming elections and constituent opinion. Senators are elected for a 6-year term and every two years 33 of them are up for re-election. Knowing where these seats fall, and then understanding how people there feel about gun control, provides a better understanding of who Obama risks losing on a vote regarding stricter regulations. Unfortunately for Obama, it looks like the South is up for re-election in this round, which is likely to mean any Democrats holding on to seats there will turn against him.

Of the states with Senate seats up for grabs, Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia are all pro-gun in their legislation and have senators going up for re-election. These are the states that are concerns with regards to Obama’s gun plan, meaning the Senators are likely to vote against the plan despite being Democrats. Not only that, but with the Democrats holding a mere five-seat majority, these states can easily swing the vote in one way or another, deciding the country's fate based on their constituent sentiment.

However, while all of this discussion is flying around, and speculation ranges, the thing to keep in mind is systemic functionality. Right now, Democrat versus Republican is reigning, and discussion often falls along the lines of which people are "betraying" their party. This lens is not only unproductive, but unimportant.

The bigger picture is that if there are those who vote against Obama, they are likely expressing the interests and desires of those who they were sent to Washington to represent. In fact, the way to look at those Democrats crossing the party line is as politicians putting the interests of their constituents over party loyalties.

While Obama may struggle in passing his plan, it may be an example of politics gone right instead of wrong.