The NRA said Thursday devices that speed up the fire from semi-automatic weapons, such as bump stocks, should be subject to “additional regulation.”
The group stopped short of endorsing legislation that would ban bump stocks. But the growing number of Republican lawmakers who are open to banning the sale and possession of such devices apparently convinced the NRA to join the parade, or risk being trampled.
It was an important moment. Gun-control supporters, it turns out, can be as passionate as gun-rights Americans. That passion will be the key to overcoming the power of the gun lobby.
The NRA wields enormous political influence. Part of the reason is money.
Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri has been the beneficiary of pro-gun activism throughout his political career. In 2016, the NRA’s Political Victory Fund spent more than $2.1 million on ads either for Blunt or against Jason Kander, the senator’s Democratic opponent, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The New York Times says the NRA and its various spin-off groups have poured more than $4.5 million into races involving Blunt. That’s the third-highest total for any congressional incumbent.
Blunt, in turn, has been a reliable friend of the gun lobby. Just a few days after the slaughter of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook Elementary School, he said he would “vote against anything that impacts, in a negative way, the Second Amendment.”
He called the Las Vegas shootings “tragic.”
But the NRA’s money wasn’t the only thing that helped Blunt to a narrow 2016 victory. He won in part because supporting gun rights is a cultural signal — gun rights stand at the top of a long list of other conservative concerns including states’ rights, same-sex marriage and immigration.
That signal gets lots of voters to the polls.
One in three Americans owns a gun. Forty-two percent of Americans live in households with at least one weapon. And 74 percent of gun owners say their right to bear arms is an essential freedom, more than twice the rate of those who don’t own guns.
Politicians in both parties understand the power of the gun voter. Kander supported background checks for some gun purchases, but he made the claim in an ad in which he assembled a military rifle while blindfolded. That, too, was a signal.
For years, the power of the gun voter has gripped electoral politics. That’s why the Las Vegas massacre is so important: For a moment or two at least, gun-control passion has matched that of gun-rights advocates.
Polls show most Americans support gun restrictions, yet for many, other issues like health care and taxes are more important.
Most gun owners, on the other hand, see the Second Amendment as a threshold issue. If you’re wrong on guns, they believe you’re wrong on everything else.
The Nevada carnage convinced millions of Americans to place gun safety at the top of their agendas. That prompted the stampede to ban bump stocks, which Republicans including Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts and Rep. Kevin Yoder joined Thursday.
Sure, it’s a small step. But the NRA blinked because Americans were outraged about weapons that mimic fully automatic guns. It takes passion to defeat passion, a lesson gun-control activists should take to heart.