Tuesday, May 7, 2013


What a difference some new polling can make. Last week, PPP released a slew of swing state polls showing Senators who voted to filibuster gun safety legislation that included expanded background checks were becoming increasingly popular. One of those Senators was Jeff Flake (R-Arizona). And after a week of flailing around the issue following flailing poll numbers, Flake seems to be having a change of heart.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) told CNN he's open to expanding background checks if the Manchin-Toomey legislation is modified to be more accommodating for Internet sales between friends.

Flake said he'd consider voting for the bill if the requirement is altered to ensure that a gun owner may sell a firearm to a friend without an FBI check after exchanging text-messages or emails or posting on Facebook. The senator fretted that as currently written, the bill may deem that a commercial transaction and require a background check.

The legislation generally exempts background checks for private gun sales between friends and family.

Actually, this is why some gun safety advocates were concerned about that amendment. Because it exempted so many private gun sales from background checks, it kept "the gun show loophole" alive. It may have been narrowed, but the loophole would still be there.

Yet that was not enough for Senator Flake. He didn't even want the loophole narrowed that much. But now, he's backpedaling. And Steve Benen is noticing.

The substance behind Flake's concerns seems rather superficial, but what strikes me as interesting is the fact that the senator is backpedaling at all -- after his support for the Republican filibuster, Flake saw his support plummet among his constituents. Instead of saying, "I'm confident I did the right thing," we see the Arizona Republican effectively saying, "On second thought...."

Indeed, Flake rejected his party line yesterday, saying he sees no value in the GOP talking point about a national registry. "I know that is not what this bill does, just the opposite," Flake said.

The freshman from Arizona isn't the only one feeling defensive.

In New Hampshire, for example, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) has a new op-ed today talking about how much she likes background checks. If she were confident about the political implications of her vote last month, would his op-ed have been written? I rather doubt it. [...]

[Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid [D] did not specify how close he and his allies might be to 60 votes, but he told the Las Vegas Review Journal, "Joe Manchin called me yesterday. He thinks he has a couple more votes.... We may only need three additional Republicans. So we'll see."

And in case that's not enough, Greg Sargent caught this scoop yesterday.

One of these votes currently in play may be Senator Johnny Isakson, who sponsored a background check bill on the state level in Georgia. A gun control advocate who met with Senator Isakson today tells me that he said he is open to voting for Manchin-Toomey if and when it comes up again —and that he is in active talks with Senator Joe Manchin about the measure.

Piyali Cole, a senior official with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, met with Senator Isakson today, along with three other gun control advocates, asked him why he had voted against Manchin Toomey, and whether he’d be open to voting for it if changes were made.

“He said he is working with Manchin Toomey on a regular basis on the bill —he said he’s definitely having conversations with them,” Cole tells me. “When we asked him directly, is he going to vote for the Manchin-Toomey compromise bill when it’s reintroduced, he said he did not know but said he was definitely open to it.”

So does this mean gun safety reform will finally rise again in Washington? Maybe. Just don't get too excited just yet, as a possible gun safety comeback will have to wait for some sort of conclusion to the Senate's debate over comprehensive immigration reform.

But as we've said here before, there's one Senator whose vote likely determines the future of both policies. Last month, Senator Dean Heller (R-46%) was part of the G-O-TEA filibuster of Senator Reid's gun safety bill and the Manchin-Toomey Amendment that would have weakened Reid's original bill. What will be enough to make Heller switch his vote?

That's the big question on Capitol Hill now... And that's why local activists probably won't be going away any time soon.

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