As a pair of NRA-backed Democratic Senators called for new discussions of gun control in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. shooting, the head of one gun rights group said he expects Republicans to stop the talk before it really gets started.
John Pierce, the co-founder of OpenCarry.org, told TPM on Monday the talk of gun control from some of the staunchest supporters of gun rights in the Democratic Party should alarm gun rights advocates. Republicans need to prepare themselves for a legislative battle, he said, and should be willing to raise taxes to pay for armed school security guards if they have to.
On Monday, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who has made his love of firearms and support from the National Rifle Association a personal signature, said it was time to discuss new gun regulations following Newtown.
“We’re looking at everything,” Manchin told MSNBC during one of at least two appearances he made on the network Monday. Manchin expressed interest in Democratic calls for assault weapons bans, clip bans as well as talk about “the culture.” He acknowledged that his tone on gun control has shifted post-Newtown.
“All of this needs to be done, and, you know, it just really has changed us,” he said. “It’s changed me.”
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), who like Manchin has also enjoyed support from the NRA, sounded a similar note Monday.
“I’ve got an A rating from the NRA. But the status quo isn’t acceptable,” he told reporters Monday. “I’ve got three daughters. They asked me on Friday evening, ‘Dad, what are you gonna do about this?’ There’s got to be a way to put reasonable restrictions, particularly as we look at assault weapons, as we look at these fast clips of ammunition.”
President Obama pushed the conversation on gun control forward with his speech Sunday night in Newtown. On Capitol Hill, Majority Leader Harry Reid joined in the calls for new action on gun control from the Senate floor.
Pierce, whose OpenCarry.org is described as a 30,000-member strong “social networking portal for the gun rights movement”, said the growing Democratic consensus is disconcerting. He said the talk of gun control is more serious this time than it has been after past mass shootings, thanks in no small part to Obama’s words.
“I do believe were in a slightly different situation here,” he told TPM Monday. “I think gun rights people are right to be concerned about the discussion this time.”
Pierce’s group is non-partisan, he said, but he expects Republicans to stand up for the gun rights crowd against the renewed interest in gun control legislation.
“I think Republicans will hold the line,” he said. “And the reason why is very simple: we just came out of an election where Republicans really had to reexamine who they were and they lost a lot of support that they thought that they had from a variety of groups.”
In short, Pierce said, the GOP can’t afford to lose gun rights advocates.
“One of the areas where I believe the Republicans continue to have pretty solid support is amongst gun owners simply because they have held the line in the past,” he said. “And to not support gun rights when something like this comes up I think would see another large bloc of supporters crumble away from the party that is not sure how it’s going to recover from the last election in any case.”
So the Newtown tragedy is activating a serious push for gun control, according to Pierce, but the Republicans can’t let that push go forward. (They shouldn’t on moral grounds as well as political, he said: the alleged Connecticut shooter violated plenty of laws so another one wouldn’t make a difference.) What are Republicans to do? Pierce said they should throw their weight behind potentially costly items like mental health reform and putting armed guards in schools, even if that means sacrificing other sacred GOP cows.
“We need to talk about what really matters. We need to talk about getting armed resource officers in schools. We need to talk about programs that allow us to arm teachers if they wish to be armed,” he said. “We need to talk about increased funding for mental health.”
“Maybe the country needs to look at accepting some tax increases to pay for that,” Pierce concluded.