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The briefing: Why federal gun control efforts lead nowhere

WASHINGTON -- Powerless.

That's the way many Americans felt yet again this week, after yet another madman with yet another assault rifle stormed into yet another school. This time, in Parkland, Fla., 17 people lost their lives.

Former President Barack Obama tweeted: "We are not powerless," but amid what seems to be an endless wave of mass shootings in America, it's easy to see why people might disagree.

And in fact, Obama is wrong: Gun control proponents are indeed powerless to pass federal gun control legislation until they swing more voters and more politicians to their side, particularly those from states where hunting and shooting sports are deeply ingrained parts of the culture.

Looking at the bare-bones poll numbers, it might not seem that way. Large majorities of more that 80 percent of Americans polled favor some additional gun control measures, such as restrictions preventing the mentally ill from owning guns and requiring more background checks.

So if that many Americans want additional gun controls, why doesn't Congress act?

Because the states where the people are most likely to own guns hold a preponderance of the political power.

Remember that every state gets two U.S. senators, a fact that makes Alaska -- the state with the highest level of gun ownership -- as powerful in the Senate as liberal California.

Remember, too, that there are more rural states than urbanized ones, and that people in rural areas are more likely to own guns.

And finally, remember that Senate rules protect the rights of the minority. In practice, no legislation of consequence can pass the Senate without the support of 60 of the 100 senators.

And on that score, especially, gun control advocates simply lack the power to pass legislation.

Some 52 senators have ratings of A or A- from the National Rifle Association's Political Victory Fund. That's more than enough to block any major gun control bill.

Why do those senators support gun rights? It's not because they rely on the NRA's campaign contributions. According to the Washington Post's Philip Bump, lawmakers who support gun rights get only a small percentage of their campaign funds from the NRA.

Instead, senators who support gun rights tend to represent states where more people own guns.

Proof of it comes when you compare the list of senators with top ratings from the NRA with the results of this 2015 survey showing gun ownership rates state-by-state.

That comparison shows that 40 of the 52 senators who got an A or an A- from the NRA come from a state with a rate of gun ownership higher than or at the national mean.

In other words, those senators are representing their constituents. And there are 40 such senators -- enough to block gun control legislation in the Senate.

Lucky for the NRA, for good measure it has the support of 12 other senators from states where gun ownership is lower than the national mean.

So what can gun control advocates do about this?

They have to change the hearts and minds of people in states where gun ownership is part of the culture.

Since the Florida shooting, though, gun control supporters are doing a real botch job of political outreach.

First of all, Everytown for Gun Safety published a misleading tweet that claimed there had been 18 school shootings so far this year.

And then, various left-leaners started in on the memes, flooding social media with message such as "The NRA is a terrorist organization" and "(Expletive) your guns. (Expletive) your Second Amendment rights."

Now if you support gun control, such memes might make you feel good. But they won't give you any more political power, just because they're nothing but an insult to the people you need to swing to your side: rural voters who grew up around guns and still use them, but who could be persuaded to think it's crazy for madmen to be able to buy assault rifles.

Happening today

The members of Congress who have not headed home already will do so today, as both houses begin a week-long recess ... President Trump heads to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., for the President's Day weekend ... Vice President Mike Pence returns to the U.S. after his weeklong trip to Asia ... Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, speaks to the Council of Foreign Relations about the committee's probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election ... And your Briefing blogger looks forward to the federal holiday on Monday, knowing that the Briefing takes a break on federal holidays.

Good reads

The New York Times gives us a chilling profile of the Florida shooter ... The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinal offers some great coverage of what's a local tragedy for the paper's audience, including this look at how the shooter got through security. The Washington Post reports that in the gun debate, children are making themselves heard ... Vox explains what faces the "Dreamers" now that the Senate has failed to pass legislation aimed at protecting those young undocumented aliens ... And McClatchy reveals the secret weapon that helped Democrat Doug Jones win a Senate seat from Alabama: yard signs.


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