After years of losing, gun control advocates say this week’s vote on confirming Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court will be their long-awaited win that shatters conventional wisdom and proves that the Second Amendment is no longer the unstoppable force of Washington politics.
“The lesson that’s going to come out of this is you can vote against the NRA and still win, and win in gun-friendly areas,” said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the nation’s leading gun control group, which is billing this week’s vote as a chance to defeat the NRA.
Gun rights supporters dismissed suggestions that they’ve lost their long hold on the Capitol. The NRA’s spokesman dared lawmakers to test Second Amendment voters at their “own peril.”
Since the 2000 elections, few lawmakers have bucked gun advocacy groups, and the NRA in particular. The powerful lobby had proved too often that it could swing elections in battleground states simply by sending its traditional election-time blaze-orange postcards telling voters how their elected officials scored on gun rights.
When an effort by Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, to expand reciprocity for concealed-carry laws throughout the nation failed July 22 to overcome a filibuster in a 58-39 vote, gun control groups said they’d made a dent. This week, they expect Judge Sotomayor to be confirmed to the Supreme Court despite the vocal opposition of the NRA and Gun Owners of America (GOA).
The NRA said the Thune amendment vote should be cold comfort to gun control groups.
“Only the Brady Campaign will try to spin getting 39 votes in the U.S. Senate as a resounding victory,” said Andrew Arulanandam, the NRA’s spokesman.
He said gun rights remain as potent an issue as ever.
Some Second Amendment supporters say that defeating Judge Sotomayor’s nomination is not central to their mission, and that it was the wrong time to stage a fight.
The Brady Campaign counts seven NRA-backed senators who have said they would vote to confirm the judge.
“I think the NRA at some point has gone beyond its mission, and are perhaps allowing themselves to get hijacked by those who are in the extreme,” Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, told the Hill newspaper.
Gun rights groups said they realize some senators won’t see Judge Sotomayor’s nomination as a firearms issue.
“Any Supreme Court justice is an uphill battle because a lot of people put the issues on hold in their mind and they say, well, the president deserves their pick,” said Erich Pratt, a GOA spokesman.