Today is day zero for gun control legislation. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) scheduled a vote to allow debate to proceed on a gun control bill. The Senate promptly voted to allow the said debate, reaching the 60-vote threshold needed to stop any filibuster, 68-31. The bill was proposed by Senators Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), and constitutes a bipartisian compromise on expanded criminal background checks, considered by many the most likely of all of President Barack Obama's proposals to pass
This vote comes on the tails of a flurry of polls showing support for gun control. On Thursday the organization Vote Vets, a political action committee, put out a poll that claimed that 91% of veterans support criminal background checks, with 74% “strongly” supporting such checks. Although some claim the group's background, which has been described as liberal and partisan, puts any such poll into question, when Americans of all stripes are polled on background checks they remain strongly supportive of such measures.
A CNN/ORC International poll found that 86%, nearly nine-in-ten, Americans support additional background checks. Of the two proposals in the Manchin-Toomey deal, making sure that all gun sales at gun shows (the so-called "gun show loophole") and making sure firearms transaction between two individuals have a criminal background check are particularly popular. These measure get 83% and 70% support respectively. The only measure that does not get such high support numbers is purchases between family members and friends, with only 54% favoring criminal background checks in those situations. That measure is not in the Manchin-Toomey proposal.
A Quinnipiac University poll found that 91% of Americans support requiring criminal background checks. Most surprising in this poll is the polling crosstabs. Democratic and Independent voters support such measures at 96% and 90%, but Republicans also support such measures, 88% to be exact. Support is also high among all racial groups (including whites, African-Americans, and Hispanics), in every major region of the United States, among every income level, and amongst both Americans with and without a college degree.
A Morning Joe/Marist poll found that 87% of Americans also support criminal background checks for private gun sales and sales at gun shows. The poll had 40% gun owners in the sample. And finally a Huffington Post/YouGov poll had 73% of Americans supporting criminal background checks.
As the Senate votes to move the Manchin-Toomey bill forward, Republicans opposed to any gun control measures such as Senators Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) will find that they will have to argue with large majorities of Americans to weaken the centerpiece of the bill, expanded background checks. Their threat of filibusters was destroyed by today's vote. Anti-gun control advocates will now have to convince Republicans that voted for a debate to vote against the final legislation and other parliamentary actions that advance the debate forward. But given that many saw Thursday's cloture vote as the first and most difficult step toward allowing gun control legislation to reach President Obama’s desk, the process towards expanded background checks just got a lot easier.