Barbara Shelly

Why Sens. Roberts, Moran and Blunt aren't listening to you

Updated: 2013-04-23T00:44:38Z


The Kansas City Star

After hopes of even winning a rational debate in the U.S. Senate on gun safety fell apart on Thursday, a woman leaving the gallery said of the senators, “Who do they think they represent?”

Good question. Not the 80 to 90 percent of Americans who support modest measures such as background checks at gun shows and for Internet gun sales, that’s for sure.

The answer would be the intense minority.

Take Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, the GOP senators from Kansas. A good number of people in Johnson County, Lawrence and elsewhere throughout the state are undoubtedly furious with the two Republican senators for voting against gun safety. They will berate them in emails and phone calls and at public meetings.

But Roberts and Moran know that constituents who favor sensible gun safety legislation aren’t likely to maintain the sustained anger that will hurt them at election time. And a number of people who favor gun control wouldn’t vote for the ultra-conservative GOP senators anyway.

Gun lovers, now, are a different matter. There are plenty of people in Kansas who believe, from the bottom of their hearts, that their guns are all that stands between their way of life and government tyranny. That it’s a completely irrational belief doesn’t matter. They feel it, they live it, and they will reap eternal vengeance on politicians whom they perceive as taking any action to limit their right to bear arms.

Expanded background checks wouldn’t limit their Second Amendment rights, of course. But again, logic isn’t what’s important here. It’s all about perception.

Polls show that, nationwide, 90 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of Republicans favor expanded background checks.

But as Ross K. Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University told the Washington Post, “If you ever wanted a textbook example of intensity trumping preference, this is it. You could have 100 percent of those polled saying they wanted universal background checks and it would still be defeated. You can’t translate poll results into public policy.”

I can think of three ways in which we can change public policy when it comes to gun safety.

1) Pressure the U.S. Senate to change its rules. It is ridiculous to insist on 60 votes before an important measure can even be debated. If the minority party wants to block legislation, let them stand up and do an authentic filibuster, as GOP Sen. Rand Paul did a few weeks ago. The background check bill drew 54 votes on Wednesday. That’s a majority in a 100-member Senate, and it should be enough to determine public policy.

2) Work the swing states. In other words, the Michael Bloomberg strategy. The New York City mayor isn’t the best person to be trying to influence elections in states like Missouri, but the idea of making gun safety a well-funded issue at election time is a good one.

3)Work the demographic changes. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania was able to co-sponsor the background check bill because suburban women are a powerful voting bloc in his state, and they largely favor gun safety.

This strategy could work in Missouri, where Republican Sen. Roy Blunt voted against the gun safety measures Wednesday, and Democrat Claire McCaskill voted in favor. Blunt is listening to the gun lovers. But if the suburban moms got angry enough and motivated enough, he might be persuaded to see things in a different light.

To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to Follow her at

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