Pryor takes temp from wrong end

Often we wonder what state Sen. Mark Pryor thinks he represents. As has been well reported, Pryor recently voted alongside Senate Republicans in opposition to increased background checks for firearm purchases. As several commentators have suggested, Pryor, who’s seeking re-election in 2014, might have been just a little overly cautious when he voted to block expanded background checks on gun sales at gun shows and online.

Of course, Pryor may be using the same flawed thermometer that an increasingly vocal but distinct minority of Arkansas voters have offered as gospel. Groups like the National Rifle Association have spent a lot of money in the wake of the Sandy Hook School massacre to defeat any expansion of gun regulation in the United States.

Their “we’re the majority of voters” tactic has played well among those fearful of losing their elected positions. There’s only one small problem: They aren’t the majority. In fact, they are nowhere near the majority, even here in the Natural State.

According to a rigorously scientific poll conducted by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research (using professional interviewers), nearly three out of four (72 percent) Arkansas voters support expanding background checks to include individuals who buy guns at gun shows, with 54 percent strongly favoring such a requirement.

Anzalone Liszt Grove also reports that support for requiring background checks at gun shows is strong across party lines. More than 62 percent of Republicans and 71 percent of independents are in favor of this requirement. Predictably, 84 percent of Democrats also support the measure.

More importantly for Pryor and his broken thermometer, voters are far more likely to vote for their Senator if he or she votes in favor of expanding background checks — regardless of party affiliation. Democrats are more likely to vote for their Senator by 55 points (72 percent more likely / 17 percent less likely), Republicans by 10 points (45 percent more likely / 35 percent less likely) and independents by 30 points (52 percent more likely / 22 percent less likely), the research group’s report states.

A predictable row will crest from certain segments of the gun lobby who dispute the scientific validity of this research. Rhetorical attacks on Anzalone Liszt Grove Research are surely forthcoming. After all — just as with global warming — if you can’t refute the science, try to impugn the messenger. Such attacks will be a similarly empty gesture.

Further details of the report tell us why. According to the survey, “gun-owners themselves are also firmly in favor of requiring background checks at gun shows. Close to three-quarters (72 percent) favor it overall, with 55 percent doing so strongly, and by a 34-point margin (59 percent more likely / 25 percent less likely) they are more likely to vote for a Senator who takes this position. Those who view the NRA favorably are equally supportive, with 67 percent of these voters favoring background checks at gun-shows.”

Let’s say these scientists are off by 30 percent. The NRA’s reactionary politics would still be out of step with mainstream America — even if that stream happens to run through a nice rural state like Arkansas.

While all of this present mess falls squarely at Pryor’s feet, he’s hardly the first Arkansan sent to Washington who’s forgotten his party and his constituents in favor of noisy prattle from fear-mongers and well-heeled lobbyists. What makes it worse is the great probability that he won’t be the last.