The deadlock isn’t the result of the NRA paying off politicians to vote against the wishes of their constituents. It’s much simpler than that: Many people in this country own guns, and millions of them are dedicated voters. And they are what now stand in the way of new gun laws.
“What I’m going to say is not earth-shattering: Our country is deeply divided on every issue,” a former aide to Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania told me. “People who have deeply held beliefs on things, they organize and they represent themselves. On the left, there’s always this narrative against anything right of center, that the group that the people use to actually represent themselves in Washington is evil. And the only reason that people do it is not because they have deeply held values; it’s because they’re paid to do it, right? It’s just not true on, really, any issue.”
Passionate opposition to restrictions on gun ownership can be formidable even when polling indicates broad support for specific proposals. “Universal background checks is a hugely popular proposal and yet doesn’t sway Republican colleagues,” the Toomey staffer said. “It’s an 80/20 issue, and 80 percent of the population supports it, but you have to look at that 20 percent. That’s intense opposition from that 20 percent. It’s probably what those people vote on. The 80 percent support it, but it’s not likely what they are voting on.”