On Sunday, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) badly misdiagnosed Congress’ failure to pass meaningful gun reform laws, blaming a supposedly skeptical public instead of the real culprit: the Republican minority in the Senate.
During an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Manchin claimed that his bipartisan gun reform proposal — which would have expanded gun sale background checks to cover all commercial transactions — failed to become law because the public didn’t trust the government to implement it.
“The people that basically are law-abiding gun owners and understand gun culture, they weren’t offended by saying if you go to a commercial transaction, that it makes sense to go ahead and find out is that person that wants to buy your gun a criminal,” Manchin said.
“What we found out is that people just didn’t trust government, that they were going to stop there,” he continued. “So they said hey Joe, we’re OK with the bill. We like the bill. The bill is not bad at all. We can live with that. But we just don’t trust government stopping and doing what we say we’re going to do. ”
Manchin is right that all gun owners didn’t hate his proposal; even some prominent “gun rights” groups supported the plan.
But he is dead wrong on the cause of the bill’s demise. Overwhelming majorities of Americans supported toughening gun laws both before and after the Manchin-Toomey amendment failed to advance through the Senate. In fact, nearly half a year after the Senate killed the legislation, 76 percent supported expanding background checks even further than Manchin-Toomey would have done. Voters weren’t afraid that government would take gun reform too far; if anything, they thought that Manchin-Toomey compromise didn’t go far enough.
In reality, gun reform stalled in 2013 for just one reason: Republican obstruction in the Senate. A 54-vote majority supported the gun reform legislation — but that wasn’t enough to overcome a Republican filibuster. Senate Republicans simply had no interest in forging a compromise with Democrats and the White House, despite popular support for the bill.
As this map from The Century Foundation makes clear, the senators who blocked the bill not only represent a minority of the Senate, but also an even smaller minority of the United States:
Manchin went on to acknowledge the difficulty of overcoming a Republican filibuster in the future, saying that “We have 55 Democrats,” and “I think all 55 would consider” taking up gun reform again. But he added that “it’s going to be difficult to get the extra votes that we need.”
He’s certainly right about that. With the 2014 midterms looming, it’s hard to imagine many Republicans crossing party lines to support a gun reform bill (and even if they did, the bill would be dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives). Unless and until voters prove that they will make elected officials pay for dragging their feet on gun safety, expect Republicans to continue blocking any action on the issue — a task that becomes even easier when Democrats like Manchin refuse to call them out for their intransigence.