The key to understanding why we can’t do anything about gun violence is not to do an analysis of the president’s arm-twisting talents. It’s to understand whether senators like Mark Begich of Alaska and Jeff Flake of Arizona are correct that voting for things like universal background checks will cost them their seats. Even in gun-loving states like Alaska and Arizona, the polling indicates that strong majorities support universal background checks, so why do these senators think the bigger risk is in supporting them? First, we need to figure out if they are correct. If they’re not, they can presumably be convinced that they are incorrect. If they are correct, then we either need to change the facts on the ground or convince them to risk their political careers.

The president doesn’t want vulnerable Democratic senators to take suicidal votes on bills that won’t pass anyway. But it’s hard to understand why an amendment that has the support of 90% of the people can be considered risky, even in states that don’t like the president and don’t like gun control. So, job one for people who support efforts to curb gun violence is to really understand the truth about the choice these senators are making. We can’t just hold up favorable poll numbers and stomp our feet. We tried that and it didn’t work.

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