The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Politics

April 11, 2013

Gun debate shows that even in a democracy, a passionate minority can defeat the majority

By Charles Babington

The Associated Press

At first glance, it seems Republicans are verging on a blunder.

With about 90 percent of Americans favoring universal background checks for gun buyers, GOP lawmakers’ strong resistance might appear foolhardy.

But these Republicans are making a calculated and probably safe choice, for several reasons. Their districts’ all-important GOP primaries are dominated by hard-right activists. The gun lobby is far more organized and fierce than any opposing groups. And Americans’ voting habits often reward those who refuse to compromise.

“A small, passionate group of people, no matter how radical or extreme, can be more successful than a reasonable but less passionate majority,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The National Rifle Association’s grip on Congress is more myth than reality, he said, but even modest gun control advances remain difficult.

The Senate on Thursday plans to take up legislation to expand background checks to all commercial gun purchases, including those at gun shows. Lukewarm GOP support for a filibuster, which would have killed the measure, was seen as evidence of Republicans’ eagerness to appear at least willing to consider new gun laws in the wake of several mass shootings.

Whether any new gun laws can pass the Republican-controlled House, however, is in serious doubt.

The struggle to require criminal background checks for virtually all gun buyers is just one example of congressional dynamics that might appear out of step with national sentiment.

Republicans, especially in the House, adamantly oppose any tax increases, even if they might lead to long-sought reductions in Medicare and Social Security spending, as President Barack Obama offered in his budget Wednesday. This no-new-taxes approach to deficit reduction is at odds with public attitudes, at least at the national level.

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