Wash. Post's Chris Cillizza's Shifting Rationale For Why Stronger Gun Laws Won't Pass

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza is pushing the myth of the National Rifle Association's electoral invulnerability as his latest rationale for why he believes stronger gun laws won't pass Congress.

Cillizza moved on to this myth after claiming that such laws were unlikely to pass because the American people didn't support them -- a claim now no longer plausible given new data from the same poll question he previously cited.

In his latest piece responding to the January 30 Senate hearing on gun laws, Cillizza writes that “the likelihood of any sort of sweeping measure to limit gun rights passing Congress is small” because the NRA is “perhaps the most effective single-issue interest group operating in the nation's capitol these days” due to their “heavy spending to elect people who support their views and keep those who back them in office.” He explains:

Below is a chart that breaks down where the NRA's political spending -- $32 million worth -- went in 2012.  The chart reinforces that direct contributions to candidates are almost never the key to an organization's influence. Rather, spending heavily ($18 million) via issue ads and other outside spending tends to be the way in which true power is exerted in Washington.

But how effective was that outside spending? Cillizza doesn't engage on this point, but according to the graphic he embeds in his post, of the $18 million in negative ads that he highlights as “the way in which power is exerted in Washington,” $15 million went to try to defeat their “biggest target,” President Obama. They failed. 

In fact, more than 95 percent of the more than $18 million the NRA's two main political arms spent on federal elections went to races where the NRA-backed candidate lost on Election Day. In six of seven Senate races where the NRA spent over $100,000 on the general election, the candidate supported by the NRA lost. With few exceptions, winning NRA-backed candidates received relatively little support from the organization ($30,000 or less in outside spending), suggesting that their efforts were not crucial to victory.

Cillizza's new explanation for why he thinks there won't be a “sweeping measure” on gun laws comes after his previous explanation is no longer plausible. In the wake of July's mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, Cillizza claimed that the shootings “won't likely change the gun control debate” because the American people didn't want stronger gun laws. He explained:

single chart from Gallup puts the movement in public opinion on guns in stark terms.

In 1990, almost eight in ten Americans said that the “laws covering the sales of firearms” should be made “more strict” while just 10 percent said they should be made “less strict” or “kept as they are now”. By 2010, those numbers had drastically shifted with 54 percent preferring less strict or no change in guns laws and 44 percent believing gun laws should be made more strict.

Here's what that data looks like now, following new poll results in the wake of December's mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut:

The populace has, in Cillizza's terms, “drastically shifted” in recent days, with 58 percent of respondents now calling for stronger gun laws.

As Media Matters has noted, the “more strict”/“less strict” question is not the best barometer for Americans' feelings on gun laws; polls consistently show much higher support for the passage of individual policies, such as ensuring a background check on every gun sale.

Nonetheless, one would have expected Cillizza's opinion on the likelihood of stronger gun laws passing to shift with the poll result that he once considered so important. Instead, he's found a new reason to downplay the possibility of stronger laws.