What Today's Vote on Guns Will Look Like — and How It May End Up

The Atlantic Wire

Just shy of four months after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the full Senate will for the first time today consider reforms to gun legislation. Here's what the data tells us about what might happen.

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There are three components to the Senate package, full details of which are here. In short — and in decreasing order of popularity:

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  • Increased funding for school safety.
  • New restrictions on and penalties for illegal gun trafficking.
  • An expansion of criminal background checks on gun purchases.

(For more background on objections to the trafficking bill, see this article.)

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There is also Senator Dianne Feinstein's assault weapons ban measure, which will be voted on as an amendment to the full package. It will fail.

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The background checks measure that's currently in the bill is the one introduced by Senator Chuck Schumer, which doesn't have broad support among senators given its expansiveness. Either before the full bill comes to the floor or as an amendment to it, the Manchin-Toomey compromise announced yesterday will be swapped in, offering the full package a chance of passage.

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And before all of this, at 11 a.m., the Senate will vote on a Rand Paul-led filibuster of the entire package. It's expected that there will be more than 60 senators who will vote to end the filibuster.

So: How good are the odds of passage of the bill? We cobbled together data from several sources to generate a list of the senators and their likely votes. (The full data set is at the bottom of this article.)

First, we looked at senators' stated positions, identified in the press and by the non-profit ProPublica. That provides the first bar below, in which most of the Senate hasn't taken a position. Then, we considered the senators' grades from the NRA. If a senator hasn't stated a public position but has an A grade from the NRA, we counted him or her as a "likely yes." An F grade translated into a "likely no." Those results provide the second bar below.

Data from Huffington Post, ProPublica.

This is an exceptional bill for a variety of reasons, so the second analysis should be considered very, very rough. Regardless, the assumption is generally fair. The NRA is focused on the Senate vote, announcing yesterday that it will "score" a vote on cloture — in other words, including how a senator votes on ending that filibuster in its annual totals. For those who take pride in a high NRA score, the organization has drawn a line in the sand.

NRA scores don't correlate as strongly to traditional red-blue states as you might expect. We took each senator's NRA grade and assigned it a numerical value in the classic grade-point-average tradition. The highest average NRA grades for a state are in red below; the lowest, in blue.

Data from Margie Roswell, the Washington Post.

It's an interesting contrast to poll results released by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the non-profit gun control advocacy organization founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It polled in a number of states with wavering senators, finding no state in which less than 79 percent of the population supported an expansion of background checks.

Data from Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

This is the other wild card in today's vote: the extent to which advocates of new restrictions will pressure their senators to take a position of support. There are a lot of purple states on that NRA map with senators whose positions on the package aren't yet public. They'll be the center of a massive game of tug-of-war for the next few hours, pulled in one direction by advocates and another by the NRA and other conservative groups. If our analysis is correct, the advocates will carry the day. Which won't be too upsetting for gun control opponents: The Senate package is a far cry from what the president and liberal senators wanted to see. That tug-of-war, the NRA already won.

Full compiled data, by senator.

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