CBS chief political analyst John Dickerson injected a dose of reality into the national debate on gun control Friday morning, explaining to a panel on "CBS Mornings" that a federal so-called assault weapons ban after the deadly massacre in Ulvalde, Texas is politically unfeasible.
In the wake of the massacre at Robb Elementary School, where 19 children and two teachers were murdered Tuesday by a deranged gunman, Democrats and some TV news pundits have renewed calls for gun control legislation. "CBS Mornings" co-host Michelle Miller introduced the topic on Friday's show, saying that "across the country students are making their voices heard in the gun debate. Yesterday, thousands walked out of class to protest the perpetual lack of action on the issue, in part due to the influence of the gun lobby.”
CBS chief election and campaign correspondent Robert Costa, who reported from the National Rifle Association's convention in Houston, Texas, said that the gun rights group is moving forward with the event while anti-gun protesters are expected to descend on the city.
"A recent CBS News poll found that among Republicans, the majority, nearly 75%, want laws covering the sales of guns to remain the same. Or be made less strict. And when it comes to political influence, gun-rights groups spent $15.8 million on lobbying last year," Costa reported.
During a panel discussion following Costa's report, CBS anchor Gayle King asked about gun control legislation Congress could pass. "What are the specifics we should focus on?" she asked Dickerson. "I think everybody just thinks assault rifles have to go. Good, we're talking about background checks. But assault rifles to civilians who don't have formal training, why is that so hard?”
"That's not even on the table, and the table is not even in the room," Dickerson responded. "And also, by the way, even if it were on the table, you'd have an immediate debate about what an assault weapon is."
What's "actually being discussed," Dickerson said, is federal legislation that would incentivize states to pass so-called red-flag laws, which permit police or family members to get a court order taking guns away from a person they show may be a danger to themselves or others.
"There are some states that already have this. Indiana, Virginia, others, and so there is some bipartisan support around that," he continued. "But the key thing to remember here, you need 60 votes in the Senate to get anything done, because the filibuster means you need 60 votes. If you're Democrats and you can get all of your 50 members aligned, which is also not certain, you then need to find ten Republicans to get anything passed. Anything that is going to get ten Republicans is not going to be anything close to what you're talking about in terms of assault weapons, raising the age for ownership of guns or — or — and putting any kind of measures in that people want on the left."
Miller followed up by asking how it is possible that polls can show widespread support for some kind of new gun control legislation and yet Congress lacks the votes to pass a bill. A recent CBS News poll found that 54% of Americans want stricter laws governing the sale of firearms.
Doug Heye, former chief of staff for ex-Congressman Eric Cantor, reminded Miller that members of Congress don't represent most Americans; "they represent their state, and Vermont and Montana and California and North Carolina are all very different from each other."
"And you get in states like California, North Carolina, where they have a lot of congressional districts, those districts are different from each other, and those members, Congress very accurately reflects their voters," Heye added. "If you talk to a specific member of Congress, they're representing their district probably pretty well on issues like this."
"And the key point is representing their district," Dickerson said. "The NRA spends a lot of money supporting politicians, but that money is related to the feeling of the people in the district. So it is not just dollar bills. It is also the power of the voters in those districts."