Roger Simon: Blood on his hands, victory in his sights
Wayne LaPierre may have more blood on his hands than Dracula, but - fair is fair - he also has the guts of a burglar.
He will say anything to advance the agenda of the National Rifle Association, which he runs, and he doesn't worry about his critics. Under his leadership, the NRA has grown and today is one of the most feared lobbies on Capitol Hill.
I should point out that, unlike Dracula, LaPierre neither kills people nor drinks their blood. It is just my personal belief that the NRA's gun mania has led to the slaughter of thousands of innocent men, women and children in this country.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is now spending $12 million of his own money on TV ads to combat the NRA and LaPierre. The ads are calm and reasonable. In one, a hunter in a plaid shirt, cradling a shotgun, says, "I support comprehensive background checks so criminals and the dangerously mentally ill can't buy guns."
But to LaPierre, "calm and reasonable" is the same as "weak." Bloomberg "can't spend enough of his $27 billion to try to impose his will on the American public," LaPierre sneered on "Meet the Press" Sunday. "They don't want him telling them what food to eat; they sure don't want him telling them what self-defense firearms to own. And he can't buy America!"
All anyone really has to buy, however, is Congress. LaPierre knows how to intimidate senators. He tells them that the "NRA's nearly 5 million members and America's 100 million gun owners" will not vote for legislators in 2014 who are trying to grab their assault rifles, limit the size of their ammo clips or create universal background checks that will, as LaPierre tells them, lead the government "to tax" and "to take" their weapons.
To LaPierre, the war over guns is a class war. "Political elites," he said in a recent speech, "insult, denigrate and call us crazy. In their distorted view of the world, they are smarter than we are. They are special and more worthy than we are."
LaPierre doesn't always win. Bill Clinton, who knew how to speak to what were then called "Bubba" voters, beat him and signed an assault weapons ban in 1993. But that ban expired in 2003. Barack Obama wants it back, as do Bloomberg and several senators. But not enough senators. Not nearly enough.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who has pretty much bobbled gun legislation this year, has something like 40 to 45 votes for the ban, far short of the 60 he needs for passage. So he has thrown the assault weapons ban under the bus. It will not be part of Reid's "base" bill. Instead, it will be offered as an amendment that Reid knows will fail.
The ban on high-capacity gun magazines is also not in the base bill, but there is some hope for it. "It is uphill on gun magazines," a source told me. "We are in the 40s (on senators willing to vote for it). By adjusting the number of rounds allowed in the clips, we can get to 50 votes, and maybe then we can get to 60."
The items that have a reasonably good chance of passing the Senate are the "unsexy" ones that get little attention: making gun trafficking a federal crime and providing more money for fencing, security cameras, metal detectors, psychological counseling and, perhaps, armed guards at some schools.
Universal background checks might also make it, but most likely only if there are privacy provisions to keep the press and public from knowing the names of gun owners.
Does all this seem like somewhat of a letdown after the terrible tragedy at Newtown? Weren't we expecting more from our lawmakers?
A source familiar with White House thinking told me the President is going to use his "bully pulpit" for gun control in the days ahead and Joe Biden will seriously jawbone senators when they return from their spring break.
"It's about intensity," the source said. "A majority of people are for gun control in America, but the NRA has intensity. A billionaire spends money on ads, but will that change things? Senators want to know what their phones calls are like, their letters, their emails, their social media and whether people are going to town meetings.
"People can still rise up. Don't write the obit for gun control yet."
Roger Simon is chief political columnist for Politico.