Even with guns, all politics is local

Gun bill risky for 'endangered Democrats'

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Story highlights

  • Sen. Mary Landrieu is a conservative Democrat representing the red state of Louisiana
  • "I really will follow what the people in my state want me to do" on gun control, she said
  • This despite national polls that show 90% support background checks

In a small gun range 20 minutes outside New Orleans, a steady stream of gun enthusiasts fill the air with the scent of gunpowder and the sharp bang of shots.

Many of the customers -- a range of ex-military men, off-duty law enforcement officers and a sprinkling of women learning how to handle a firearm for self-protection -- said they have grown up around guns and are leery of interference by the federal government on gun rights.

"Just like drug use is illegal but people still get their hands on drugs -- so, the bad guys are still going to have guns," said Meredith Timberlake, who came from a family of Marines. "Well, I'm going to have a gun too."

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) is well aware of those concerns. The veteran Democrat will face her states' voters in a 2014 election, and despite her three terms in the Senate, Landrieu's seat is widely considered vulnerable.

CNN Poll: Importance of guns soars, as do gun owner concerns

She has already drawn a Republican challenger, who has worked to tie Landrieu to the policies of President Barack Obama and charged she does not represent the views of many in this deeply red Southern state.

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Landrieu, in an interview with CNN during a small business event in Boston, emphasized her independence from Washington.

Despite the president's aggressive support for expanding background checks for gun purchasers, Landrieu said she has not decided whether she'll support a Senate bill on the matter.

Background checks on gun sales: How do they work?

When asked about recent polls finding 90% of Americans support universal background checks, Landrieu said: "I don't know what the number is in Louisiana."

"I'm not the president of the United States, I'm the senator from Louisiana," Landrieu said. "So I really will follow what the people in my state want me to do on that issue."

Landrieu said she wouldn't weigh in on background checks "until I see the bills and then I'll decide how I'm going to vote. But there's no question about my support for the Second Amendment."

CNN Poll: Background checks popular, worrisome

Months after the massacre of elementary school students in Newtown, Connecticut, there is intense pressure for Congress to address gun violence.

A third-party group, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns, has rolled out an ad in Louisiana urging Landrieu to support new gun legislation.

The group has also directed spots at other lawmakers on the fence about reforms, including several other Democrats up for re-election in 2014.

And there are some signs that a bill like one announced by a bipartisan group of senators Wednesday on background checks may be more palatable to voters.

A Quinnipiac poll released in early April found 91% of voters across the country support universal background checks.

"I think we should be doing that anyway. I think that's part of our responsibility," said Keith Moody, a former Marine who works in law enforcement and supports expanding the background check system.

"I think responsible gun owners would agree that's a reasonable request that our government or local law enforcement put on us. When you start going past that is when I think people get nervous about it or have strong feelings one way or the other," Moody said.

Before the play date, the gun talk

As the Senate prepares to consider gun legislation as early as Thursday, Landrieu will have to cast a vote.

"If there is a lot of support and we can get background checks done and not infringe on the right of people to own guns or to pass them down to their children or grandchildren, we'll figure out a way to do that," Landrieu said. "I do know that people in Louisiana want the right to own a gun and feel that it's, you know, part of our culture and history, and we're not going to infringe upon that right."

      Gun control debate

    • Gun rights and gun control advocates largely agree there should be restrictions on mentally ill people obtaining firearms. The case of Myron Fletcher illustrates how difficult it is to put that into practice.
    • Six months after a gunman burst into a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school and slaughtered 20 children and killed six others, promises of stricter national gun control laws remain largely unfulfilled.
    • An undated photo of murder suspect Elliot Rodger is seen at a press conference by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff in Goleta, California May 24, 2014. Rodger, 22, went on a rampage in Isla Vista near the University of California at Santa Barbara campus, stabbed three people to death at his apartment before shooting to death three more in a terrorizing crime spree through the neighborhood. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

      Next time there's a mass shooting, don't jump to blame the National Rifle Association and lax gun laws. Look first at the shooter and the mental health services he did or didn't get, and the commitment laws in the state where the shooting took place.
    • Melvin Speight uses a camera scope run down a barrel to check the rifleing inside. Speight has been with Colt for 7 years.

      The sign at the door of the Colt factory displays a gun with a slash through it: "No loaded or unauthorized firearms beyond this point." Understandable for workers at a plant, but also a bit ironic, considering one of the largest arsenals in America lies just beyond.
    • clip inside man spurlock gun ownership_00004707.jpg

      Morgan Spurlock's "Inside Man" gives CNN viewers an inside and in-depth look at the issue of firearms -- as viewed from behind the counter of a gun store. Here are five things to know about the debate.
    •  	US President Barack Obama is accompanied by former lawmaker Gabrielle Giffords (L), vice president Joe Biden (R) and family members of Newtown school shooting victims as he speaks on gun control at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, on April 17, 2013. Obama on Wednesday slammed what he called a 'minority' in the US Senate for blocking legislation that would have expanded background checks on those seeking to buy guns. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

      The Senate defeated a compromise plan to expand background checks on firearms sales as well as a proposal to ban some semi-automatic weapons modeled after military assault weapons.
    • Jessica Ghawi

      As Congress grapples with major gun control legislation proposals, brothers and sisters, mothers, fathers and children write about the people they loved and lost to gun violence and how it changed their lives.
    • Many Americans and lawmakers are in favor of continuing or expanding background checks on gun purchases, but few understand how the checks work.
    • Still stinging from the shooting deaths at Sandy Hook, Connecticut lawmakers approved what advocacy groups call the strongest and most comprehensive gun legislation in the nation.
    • It took fewer than five minutes for Adam Lanza to squeeze off 154 rounds, upending life in Newtown, Connecticut, and triggering a renewed national debate over gun control.
    • A former drug addict turned anti-violence crusader, and a man who lost his father in a temple shooting. These are just two of many in the conversation.