When it comes to gun control, politicians have feared the NRA for decades. They've seen Democrats lose at every level, from president on down, in part because of the gun issue, and they saw their party make a comeback, particularly out west, when it started embracing gun rights instead.
The supposedly new-and-improved gun-control lobby was convinced that conventional wisdom was out of date. It set out to convince politicians that the landscape had changed. It had a less inflammatory message and more modest goals than the would-be gun-prohibitionists of the 1980s and '90s. It had a public that seemed galvanized by the shootings in Tucson and Aurora and Newtown, and polling data that seemed to show voters overwhelmingly supportive of its aims. The NRA's message and tactics, by contrast, seemed laughably antique and tone deaf. A vote for gun control, advocates claimed, wasn't just a safe vote; it was the only safe vote. Senators who voted against the federal gun-control bill were punished with ad campaigns and saw their approval ratings dip. For the first time, the terrible calculus of politics seemed to be on gun-control advocates' side.
But there was still one thing they needed to prove. They needed to prove that they could protect the lawmakers whom they coaxed out on a limb. On Tuesday, they failed that test. Future lawmakers facing similar votes aren't going to care about the particulars; they're going to look at John Morse and Angela Giron and think, That's going to be me. No thanks.
In the end, Americans just don't care about gun control. That would require courage, courage to actually back politicians who want to pass it. Courage to get involved. Courage to do more than just buy pretty green nail polish because it's the same green as the Sandy Hook Elementary.
Instead we see what happens to the people who try to stand up to the gun lobby. They have guns. They're not shy about demonstrating they know exactly how to use them. They have people who have the conviction to say "If necessary I will take your life to protect my own or my family and I will not hesitate."
How do you fight conviction like that with the politics and politicians we have now?
If you find out, let me know. Because gun control is dead in this country, it has been since 2000, and may always be.