GUNS COME FIRST: A bad political call by Mark Pryor.

  • GUNS COME FIRST: A bad political call by Mark Pryor.

Joe Nocera writes this morning about the vote to block legislation to expand gun purchase background checks and his pursuit of an answer to why from the four Democrats, including Sen. Mark Pryor, who stood in the way of a vote. Then he answers his own question.


Of course, we all know the reason: The four Democrats — along with many Republicans — quake in fear of the National Rifle Association. In 1994, Baucus voted in favor of the assault rifle ban — and then nearly lost his re-election bid. He never again stood up to the N.R.A. Yes, his phones were undoubtedly jammed this week. Still, it seemed to me that his unanswered phone was a potent symbol. I could almost picture him cowering in his office, waiting for us to stop asking why he sold the country down the river.

I loathe single-issue politics, but maybe this is what it has come to. Maybe it is going to take senators like Max Baucus losing their jobs because they wouldn’t stand up to the N.R.A. Maybe it is going to require the majority of Americans who support sensible gun laws to turn themselves into an avenging political force. I wish it weren’t so, but nothing else seems to move them — not even the sight of 20 slaughtered children in Connecticut.

Nocera, a smart guy, is a little out of touch with Arkansas, of course, and most likely Montana, North Dakota and Alaska, where other Democrats joined Pryor in going belly up for the NRA.

It is true that this vote isn’t helpful to Mark Pryor’s re-election. A small number — and I heard from yet another good Democratic voter last night that this was her intention — will vote Green in November 2014 rather than vote for Mark Pryor. That small number could be critical in a close election. Many more likely Democratic voters will be decidedly unenthusiastic about whether Mark Pryor lives or dies politically in November 2014. They won’t give him money. They won’t make phone calls. They won’t write postcards. They just might not vote at all. Think enthusiasm doesn’t matter? Ask Blanche Lincoln.


When I say Nocera is out of touch, I mean about the implication that the result of sending a message to Mark Pryor could have a positive impact in time. In Arkansas, it will mean electing someone who is even worse on guns and just about everything else, most likely the Club for Growth’s emissary to Arkansas, Tom Cotton. And if Nocera thinks he’d just be a placeholder until a Democrat with more courage could stand for election, he doesn’t know Arkansas very well.

Pryor’s decision was wrong as a matter of policy, wrong as a matter of courage and, worst of all for him, wrong as a matter of politics. He’ll gain not a single vote from gun enthusiasts for pandering to the NRA. The gun nuts don’t trust him and won’t trust him. The NRA won’t support him. But he will lose votes. Lots of them. And the power of the bullies will increase