Democrats in power surprisingly hand victories to NRA
President Obama and his allies in Congress have given the gun lobby a string of victories — from forgoing new gun laws to easing restrictions already on the books — since Mr. Obama took office and Democrats assumed complete command of political power in Washington.
Democratic leaders in Congress tend to support more restrictive gun laws but have yielded on the issue since a majority of their rank-and-file members increasingly side with the National Rifle Association (NRA) when votes involve the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
Gun-control groups blame the Obama White House for the setbacks, saying the administration kept mum on firearms issues even when shooting incidents killed six at a North Carolina nursing home in March and left 13 dead at an upstate New York immigration center in April.
“I’m disappointed that they didn’t use some leadership after the shootings in March and April to at least talk about the need to deal with this,” said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
“They just don’t want to talk about it right now,” he said.
The NRA gained a major victory when Mr. Obama backed off from a push to reinstate a ban on assault weapons, even as top Democrats and administration officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, endorsed the ban.
On May 22, Mr. Obama signed a bill with a provision lifting the prohibition on bringing loaded firearms into national parks and wildlife refuges.
Mr. Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress were forced to accept the gun amendment, which was sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, to a bill that added protections to consumers in credit card contracts.
The ease with which the bill sailed through the Democratled Congress to the ready pen of Mr. Obama gave a rude awakening to gun-control activists as the gun lobby secured a win that eluded it when Republicans ruled Washington.
Mr. Obama in April sought to appease gun-control advocates by calling for the Senate to ratify the Inter-American Convention on small-arms trafficking, a measure meant to stem the crossborder flow of black-market guns and ammunition.
But the treaty, which has lan- guished in the Senate since 1997, received a cool reception from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
“We must work with Mexico to curtail the violence and drug trafficking on America’s southern border, and must protect Americans’ Second Amendment rights,” said Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat. “I look forward to working with the president to ensure we do both in a responsible way.”
Mr. Reid, whose popularity at home is tenuous, faces a tough reelection race next year in his progun Western state.
The NRA’s prowess at bending the will of lawmakers also was on display when a bill that would give the District a voting member in Congress stalled because House Democratic leaders could not thwart an amendment that would repeal most of the District’s strict gun laws.
The legislation has been shelved in the House since early March.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, acknowledged that a majority of lawmakers in both chambers agree with NRA positions, but he insisted that those members of Congress do not “feel obligated to the NRA.”
“I don’t think [gun lobbyists] have gotten what they want, any time they want it,” he told reporters at the Capitol two weeks ago. He said the recent NRA victories were all on the edges of the gun-law debate.
Attaching pro-gun amendments to bills unrelated to firearms laws, Mr. Hoyer said, is a strategy with significant limitations, especially under House rules that require an amendment to be germane to the underlying bill.