Gun Control: Anger Over Background Check Failure Could Unseat Some Senators

With the initial failure of expanded background checks — the gun control measure considered most likely to pass in the Senate — earlier in April, the electoral ramifications are only beginning to make themselves clear. As pro- and anti-gun control forces regroup for future legislative battles, the voters have begun to pass judgment on how legislators voted.

In perhaps the most interesting electoral development in the gun control debate, one foe of gun control may be seeing a backlash from their vote against expanded background checks. A poll released by Public Polling Policy on Wednesday showed Senator Kelley Ayotte (R-N.H.) receiving significant backlash over her vote against background checks. As pro- and anti gun-control forces plan electoral strategies for 2014 and 2016, expect to see them capitalize on the voter reactions to the failed bill.

The poll on Ayotte has one statistic that should make any campaign manager cautious. Ayotte has dropped to a net negative approval rating, 44% approving with 46% disapproving. The last time her approval rating was polled in October it was 48% approving and 35% disapproving. This is a 15-point drop.

The cause of the sudden drop in approval is apparently Ayotte’s vote against expanded background checks according to the pollster. When polled about their reaction to her vote, 50% of voters said that it would make them less likely to support her for reelection. 23% said it would make them more likely and 25% took the option of the vote not making a difference in their decision. Expanded background checks are popular in New Hampshire, with 75% approval. Broken down along party lines background checks have 95% of Democrats, 74% of Independents, and 56% Republicans supporting them. However Ayotte is not up for reelection until 2016, so these numbers can always improve.

The defeat of the expanded background check bill has brought up strong emotions on both sides of the issue. A Pew Research/Washington Post poll on Americans’ feelings about the failure of the legislation found that 47% of Americans were either angry or disappointed with the legislation’s failure. Thirty-nine percent were either relived or very happy with the failure of the legislation.

There have already been announcements from pro-gun control groups that they will be targeting Ayotte, who is up for reelection in 2016. The group Americans for Responsible Solutions, formed by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, has stated that they will run radio ads against Senators Ayotte and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) about their votes opposing expanded background checks.

The backlash is not limited to Republicans. Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a pro gun control advocacy group formed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is considering waging a full on campaign over radio, direct-mail, and television for several months against Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark.). The goal would be to provide a counterweight to the incredibly powerful National Rifle Association and demonstrate that taking anti-gun control stances will have more direct consequences in the past. The NRA spent over $800,000 on lobbying efforts in Washington during the first quarter of the year

As the dust settles in the wake of the defeat of expanded background checks, do not expect the debate over gun control to end. Already both sides are preparing for the next stage of the battle no matter where it is fought and what form the fight is.