Immigration Reform 2013: How It Could Kill the New Gun Control Debate


Following the Senate's recent failure to pass gun control legislation, with a bipartisan bill to expand background checks being defeated by 54 votes to 46, Vice President Joe Biden told a group of law enforcement officials on Thursday that he is planning a renewed effort to toughen gun control legislation. Speaking to the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, Biden said he is planning further trips around the country to promote gun control. During the 90-minute meeting, Biden reportedly agreed with the assessment that "the White House and gun control allies failed to properly educate the public about what was in the Manchin-Toomey bill."

While Biden noted that he "hasn't really discussed" his plans with President Obama, during his trip to Mexico on Thursday the President also vowed to continue to push for tighter gun control legislation, saying "things happen somewhat slowly in Washington, but this is just the first round." Meanwhile, buoyed by the vote in the Senate, gun rights advocacy groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) have promised to wage an "extensive war" on efforts to increase gun controls. Clearly, Obama, Biden, and supporters of gun control will continue to face an uphill battle. But there are some signs of hope following the recent setback.

According to Jon Adler, national president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, Biden's "candid request was for us to tell him what can be done differently. His sense was not to go back to the drawing board with the same thing that just lost." One of the people attending the meeting, however, said it wasn't so much a discussion of ways to proceed as simply an attempt from the Vice President to get their support. 

Biden did not say when the renewed push would begin, but according to Politico, "officials with gun control groups and aides to senators working on the issue said no action is likely until after the Senate is finished working on comprehensive immigration reform." Which may mean it is sometime away, given that immigration reform itself is hardly proving to be an easy issue to resolve.

Despite the recent setback, polls have consistently shown strong support among Americans for tougher gun control measures. One recent poll showed that 90% of Americans support requiring background checks at gun shows, with other polls also showing high levels of support for this. A majority of Americans also support a ban on assault weapons and high capacity clips. 

While this support did not translate into the passage of the Manchin-Toomey bill, there has since been a public backlash against senators from both parties who voted against the bill. According to a Public Policy Polling survey released on Monday, Alaska Democrat Mark Begich, Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, Nevada Republican Dean Heller and Ohio Republican Rob Portman all saw their support fall due to their vote. Biden plans to capitalize on this by visiting the home states of some of these senators to push the case for gun control. By contrast, one of the sponsors of the bill, Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey, saw his support rise in a new poll. 

None of this, however, guarantees that things will turn out differently next time gun control legislation comes up for vote in the Senate. As Senator Toomey lamented after the vote, the bill "didn't pass because we're so politicized. There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it." 

It is not immediately clear what new proposals or approaches, if any, Biden and Obama plan to bring to the debate. But there is one thing that seems clear: while both the White House and gun control advocates on one side, and the NRA and gun rights advocates on the other, appear equally committed to their respective positions, there is significant support amongst the American public for enacting tougher gun control legislation. Perhaps with enough public pressure on senators who voted against the previous bill, things might turn out differently next time.