Senate Watch: Gun Control Edition
With this week’s battle over gun control legislation in the Senate, I thought it worthwhile to examine it from a qualitative and quantitative perspective. A total of 46 Senators voted against cloture on the Manchin-Toomey background check proposal, thus killing it without requiring anyone to actually speak on the floor of the Senate. This is exactly what many people expected to happen, and why there were calls early in the year to require filibusterers to speak on the Senate floor to prevent votes on bills.
I wrote this before Nate Silver’s statistical analysis was published yesterday.
In any case, the 46 Senators consisted of 41 Republicans and five Democrats. Let’s start by looking at the four Democrats.
Senator Max Baucus (D-MT)
Baucus is up for reëlection next year in a state in the Western Interior, a region known for its attachment to firearms. Montana ranks #3 in a 2001 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey in terms of per-capita gun ownership. It’s hardly surprising that he would be reluctant to vote in favor of any forms of gun control. After all Montana is a state whose legislature passed a bill last month nullifying any federal gun control.
While Democratic Senator Jon Tester managed to get reëlected last year against challenger Denny Rehberg, Montana remains a conservative state overall. Big Sky Country has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of R+7, placing it on the right edge of states inclined to vote for a Democrat. Baucus had plenty of reason to avoid giving ammunition to his future general election opponent.
Senator Mark Begich (D-AK)
Alaska and Montana have much in common, and everything that applies to Baucus applies to Begich. Alaska is #2 in the BRFSS survey, though hasn’t yet passed any gun control nullification bills. Nonetheless, Begich has a difficult road ahead of him; Alaska’s PVI of R+12 indicates a significantly higher degree of partisanship there than Baucus sees in Montana. Only the extraordinary situation of a felony conviction led to the late Senator Ted Stevens’s defeat, by a mere one percentage point, in 2008.
Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
See a trend yet? North Dakota has much culture in common with Alaska and Montana, and sits at #10 in the BRFSS study. Its R+10 PVI places it between the two in partisanship. Unlike Baucus and Begich, though, Heitkamp was just elected last November. She defeated Republican Rick Berg by just one percentage point.
Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR)
Pryor, like Baucus and Begich, is a Democrat in a red state who is seeking reëlection in 2014. He has the largest PVI to overcome, since Arkansas is a ruby-red R+14, and the state is #6 in the BRFSS study. Nonetheless, he is in the unusual position of being a red-state Democrat who had no Republican opposition in his last election.
Senator Harry Reid (D-NV)
Wait, what? Reid isn’t up for reëlection, and more importantly is the Senate Majority Leader. What’s his excuse? It’s more a procedural thing than anything else, because of his position. Nevada is well below average in gun ownership, despite the wild-west persona.
Next, let’s look at the red-state Democrats who voted in favor of cloture.
Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC)
North Carolina is a PVI R+3 state, #23 on the gun ownership survey, and Hagan beat incumbent Senator Elizabeth Dole by a sizable margin in 2008. Her risk here was fairly low.
Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
This is a surprise. Louisiana is a PVI R+12 state with a particularly powerful love of firearms, as evidenced by the recent constitutional amendment banning most gun restrictions, and the state’s relatively high rank of 13 on the gun ownership survey. Landrieu is also up for reëlection next year, and is considered one of the most vulnerable Senators in the 2014 election cycle. This was a seriously gutsy move on her part.
Senator Mark Udall (D-CO)
Colorado is a difficult state to handicap. Its D+1 PVI suggests that Udall isn’t risking much here, but Colorado is also a Western Interior state, and five of the six adjacent states (six of seven if you include Arizona) are solidly red. Yet Colorado is 33 on the gun ownership survey, suggesting this particular vote isn’t anywhere near as dangerous for Udall’s prospects as Landrieu’s is for hers.
What about Republicans who voted in favor of cloture? This is an interesting list, and one that hasn’t gotten much press.
Senator Susan Collins (R-ME)
No surprise here. Collins is particularly liberal by today’s Republican standards. Despite her being up for reëlection next year, Maine isn’t the sort of state where the NRA can swoop in and do much damage to an incumbent Senator. The small-community feel of the state blunts large PACs’ ability to influence statewide elections. Collins is free to vote her conscience, and I expect her to continue to be rewarded for doing so.
Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL)
This is also not much of a surprise. Illinois is #44 on the gun ownership survey and a D+8 state. Kirk can ill afford to step far to the right. Even though he’s not up for reëlection next year, this is a vote that could have lasting repercussions in the Land of Lincoln. Besides, he was a cosponsor of the bill.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ)
McCain’s vote is a surprise. Arizona has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the nation, which has led the Grand Canyon state to be a leading source for illegal weapons in Mexico. He is risking a primary challenge in 2016, though he will be nearly 80 years old by then and may be planning to retire.
Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA)
While Pennsylvania’s D+1 PVI and rank of 34 on the gun ownership survey suggests that a yea vote makes sense here, Toomey has built a brand of extreme conservatism. This makes him vulnerable to a primary challenge in 2016. For this reason, I would consider his yea vote nearly as surprising as McCain’s. On the other hand, he cosponsored the bill, so it’s not really a surprise in toto.
Were you similarly surprised by some of those votes? How would you calculate the effects of this particular vote on the future makeup of the Senate?
- The Four Democrats Who Voted Against Gun Control
- Meet The Five Cowardly Senate Democrats Who Killed the Assault Weapons Ban
- Dirty Harry Sets Showdown For Gun Vote On Thursday
- Rothenberg: Most Vulnerable of ’14? Pryor by a Hair
- Primary their asses
- Why Did These Four Democrats Vote No on Gun Background Checks?
- Liberals Lash Out at Gun-Rights Democrats
- Pro-gun voters put heat on Montana senator
- Senate filibuster flushes background check bill away in 54–46 vote
- The shameful Senate vote on gun control: Editorial