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For Democrats, Gun Control Fades From Agenda

A decade ago, the calculus was simple: Those who wanted greater gun control aligned with the Democrats. And those who wanted fewer restrictions on guns turned to the Republicans.

No longer.

Though an amendment to mandate that states recognize concealed weapons permits issued by other states, effectively allowing people to carry concealed weapons across state lines, narrowly failed on Wednesday, it garnered 58 votes in the Democrat-dominated Senate. (It needed 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.)

On Tuesday, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg called the amendment, sponsored by South Dakota Republican John Thune, "about as anti-police, pro-gun trafficker piece of legislation that has ever come before the United States Senate."

Among those who backed the amendment was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who was joined by Southern and Midwestern Democrats in voting yes. Other Democrats who backed the amendment included Virginia Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner, Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus and Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh. The New York Times has a full breakdown here.

In fact, it fell to two Republicans, George Voinovich of Ohio and Dick Lugar of Indiana, to effectively prevent the amendment from passing.

Despite the fact that Democrats control both the executive branch and Congress, supporters of gun control have had few opportunities to celebrate this year. The Senate moved to weaken the District of Columbia's strong gun laws (though the House stalled the legislation, which was attached to the D.C. Voting Rights bill) and Congress voted to allow individuals to carry guns in national parks.

"It's been a very difficult period," Peter Hamm, of the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence, told Hotsheet. "It's been frustrating that in the first six months of a Democratic administration with a Democratic Congress, that Congress hasn't seen fit to go in the right direction on the gun issue."

Hamm said there was "an awful lot of political gamesmanship" going on around Wednesday's vote. He said the amendment was put forth in part "to force Democrats from certain states to register what they consider a difficult vote" and called its defeat the first major victory of the year from the perspective of gun control advocates.

Indeed, for many Democrats a vote for gun control is a losing proposition. Reid, who is facing a potentially difficult 2010 reelection campaign in Nevada, knew his decision to vote for the amendment would help insulate him from charges that he is insufficiently committed to the second amendment. As Glenn Thrush notes, Arkansas Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor initially voted no on the amendment but changed that vote to yes when it became clear that it would be defeated, presumably to protect himself against similar charges.

Voters have generally moved away from pro-gun control positions in recent years, despite high-profile shootings at Columbine, Virginia Tech and elsewhere. In April, a NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll found that just 53 percent of Americans favored a law to ban the sale of assault weapons and semiautomatic rifles. In 1991, that figure was 75 percent.

An ABC News/Washington Post Poll found that same month that 51 percent of Americans favor tougher gun control laws, down from 61 percent in 2007 and 67 percent in 1999.

Shortly after the vote on the amendment, the National Rifle Association sent out a celebratory statement stating that, despite the loss, the vote "shows that a bipartisan majority agrees with the NRA." Among the senators the NRA thanked for their efforts to pass the amendment was Democrat Jim Webb, who the group hailed along with "all senators who voted in favor of this amendment on both sides of the aisle."