The Fat Lady Sings on Gun Control, 2013 Edition

by Stuart Rothenberg March 28, 2013 · 3:23 PM EDT

Whether you are a staunch supporter of the National Rifle Association or an enthusiastic backer of the effort by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein for stronger gun control laws, it now should be clear who is winning — indeed, who has won — the latest skirmish in the gun control wars.

As my friend Chris Cillizza noted recently in an excellent piece, supporters of new gun control measures are poised to fail, yet again, in their efforts to pass significant new legislation.

The Senate’s gun violence bill doesn’t include an assault weapons ban or a ban on high-capacity magazines, so almost any legislation eventually enacted is likely to fall far short of what activists on the gun control side really want — or hoped for after the Newtown, Conn., tragedy.

The assault weapons ban was officially declared dead last week, and even a new requirement for expanded background checks could fail unless its supporters work with congressional Republicans to fashion a proposal that both parties can accept.

The liberal Center for American Progress, which in January proposed more than a dozen policies “to prevent gun violence in our nation,” on Wednesday issued a report arguing that the Newtown shootings “changed the debate” on gun control” and criticizing polling for missing “emerging trends on gun issues” even before the Connecticut tragedy.

But a CBS News poll released this week suggests the gun control issue is losing steam.

The March 20-24 survey found 47 percent of respondents favoring stricter gun control laws, while 39 percent said gun control laws should be kept as they are and 11 percent favored fewer restrictions — a 10-point drop in support for greater regulation since a February survey.

Advocates of additional restrictions warn that the issue could be decisive in the 2014 midterms, arguing that it could draw more women and minorities to the polls who will vote for Democratic supporters of gun control.

In fact, given the geographical distribution of support for more gun control (disproportionately in the Northeast and in urban areas around the country) and the way congressional districts are drawn, higher turnout among liberals and minority voters isn’t likely to improve Democratic prospects.

And the Senate map for 2014 — with seats up in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia — is more likely to be a problem for Democrats who support substantial new gun control measures.

In fact, gun control advocates must decide whether to go after Democrats who oppose stricter controls on guns in primaries, including those where pro-gun Democrats have been successful. Bloomberg has already shown he is willing to spend many millions of dollars to try to persuade senators to vote in favor of gun legislation. And a super PAC that he funds has been active in House races over the past cycle.

Gun control generates extreme passion at both ends of the spectrum, and almost everyone seems to have an opinion about whether additional restrictions are necessary and what those restrictions might be.

But the key political question is whether (and how much) the issue will alter voters’ traditional vote choices in November 2014. For now, there is little reason to believe the Connecticut shootings have altered the political landscape dramatically.