The electorate has punished liberal excess, and will continue to do so, but Democrats are only starting to recognize how voters have come to confront the liabilities and costs of conservatism. Democrats do not have a free hand to dole out tax-financed benefits to the liberal interest group community, but the likelihood that they will be punished for supporting common sense measures to contain gun violence is far less than it was two or three decades ago.
In the long run, the best hope for gun control advocates is the changing demographic make-up of the membership of their prime adversary, the National Rifle Association. Not only is the N.R.A. disproportionately dependent on older white men, a declining constituency, but strong majorities of current members, from 74 to 85 percent according to the polls cited above, defy the organization’s leadership and support background checks
The fact is that Daley was not calling on Heitkamp to commit political suicide. Instead he was suggesting that Heitkamp make use of her political talents to take on a challenging but not insuperable issue. As a Democrat who carried a state Romney won by more than 20 points, 60.1 percent to Obama’s 39.9, Heitkamp should be equipped to demonstrate that even in North Dakota voters can choose to keep guns out of the hands of genuinely dangerous people.
Insofar as Heitkamp, Begich and Pryor take the easy way out, they reinforce the stereotype of an all-powerful N.R.A. Challenging the N.R.A. is not a risk-free proposition, but submission serves only to reinforce the image of Congress as the captive of special interests.