On Wednesday, President Obama unveiled a comprehensive plan to reform American gun laws and take action against the 32,000 firearm-inflicted deaths per year in the United States. His proposals ranged from stricter, universal background checks to more funding for police officers to expanding access to mental health care.
Yet a group of Senate Democrats, all of them highly rated by the National Rifle Association, are refusing to say if they support the President’s reform package. Below is a list of the Senators in question, how they’re rated by the NRA, and what they’ve said about gun law reform:
1. Max Baucus, Montana (NRA Rating: A+). Baucus appeared to oppose any federal action on gun law reform, saying in a statement that “Before passing new laws, we need a thoughtful debate that respects responsible, law-abiding gun owners in Montana instead of a one-size-fits all directives from Washington.”
2. Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota (NRA Rating: A). In a local television appearance before President Obama’s announcement, Heitkamp accused the White House of having ulterior motives besides preventing mass killing, claiming “There isn’t any amount of gun regulation or gun executive orders that will solve the problem of identifying people who could potentially do this and making sure they get the help and their families get the help so they don’ t do this. I’ve said it all along that this is wrong headed…I think it is an agenda driven by something other than school shootings.”
3. Tim Johnson, South Dakota (NRA Rating: A). Like Baucus, Johnson argued against federal solutions: “We in South Dakota have far fewer problems with guns than they do in New York or New Jersey and it makes common sense to not have one size fits all.”
4. Joe Donnelly, Indiana (NRA Rating: A). Donnelly simply said that “I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” pointed to his NRA endorsement, and rejected the assault weapons ban plan of Obama’s proposal.
5. Mark Begich, Alaska (NRA Rating: A). Begich cited his support for mental health legislation, but demurred on gun restrictions, saying “there is no quick fix when it comes to keeping our families and communities safe. We must make smart investments to increase our safety while ensuring Americans’ Second Amendment rights are protected.”
6. Joe Manchin, West Virginia (NRA Rating: A). Manchin blamed a “culture of mass violence” rather than the spread of deadly weapons, wishing the president had created a “national commission [to] build the consensus we need for real action backed not only by gun control advocates, mental health experts and entertainment industry executives but also by law-abiding gun owners who fully understand the history and heritage of firearms in America.”
7. Jon Tester, Montana (NRA Rating: A-). Tester refused to take a position, saying “As Congress considers ways to address gun violence, we must look at all aspects of this issue. Our priority must be keeping all Americans — especially our kids — safe. I will look closely at all proposals on the table, but we must use common sense and respect our Constitution.”
8. Harry Reid, Nevada (NRA Rating: B). Reid, like Tester, wouldn’t say one way or another: “I thank the President’s task force for its thoughtful recommendations. I am committed to ensuring that the Senate will consider legislation that addresses gun violence and other aspects of violence in our society early this year. The tragedy at Sandy Hook was just the latest sad reminder that we are not doing enough to protect our citizens — especially our children — from gun violence and a culture of violence, and all options should be on the table moving forward.”
Fortunately, however, several Democratic Senators with high ratings have realized the gun lobby’s power is vastly overstated. Mark Warner of Virginia, who has a flat A rating, said several of the Obama proposals had “bipartisan support” and that “President Obama has laid out a comprehensive, far-reaching proposal to address the issues of gun violence and public safety. The Sandy Hook shootings compel all of us to think anew about these issues, and I believe the status quo is not acceptable.” Bob Casey (PA) and Martin Heinrich (NM), who are rated B+, supported some of the strong gun regulations in the Obama package.
An earlier version of this post attributed a statement from Rep. Don Young (R-AK) to Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK). The post has been updated to accurately reflect Sen. Begich’s remarks. We regret the error.