Even with supporters of gun control finding inspiration in weekend marches around the nation on gun violence, there is little to indicate that the Congress is poised to change course and enact new firearm restrictions, as Democrats called for votes this year on Capitol Hill, along with change at the ballot box in November.
“It’s time for Congress to act in response to overwhelming public support for stronger gun laws,” said Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL).
“The march may be over, but this movement is not,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
But while Democrats talk up change, the reality is that a gun-rights majority clearly exists in the Congress – and the only way to change that is probably in the 2018 mid-term elections.
Here are five thoughts after the weekend marches:
1. If you believe the polls…. Yes, we can always find a poll that says one thing, or another about a major issue. But the numbers in support of a variety of gun control measures have been going up in recent years. These results in a Fox News poll show exactly that. 91 percent for “universal background checks” – even 60 percent of a ban on assault weapons. This is not to say that these measures, or any other legislative ideas on gun control, are going to approved by Congress anytime soon – but it is clear that lawmakers are being confronted with more and more evidence from back home that certain gun control plans have a lot of bipartisan support.
2. On defense, NRA steps up its own message. With a surge in calls for action on gun violence since the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the National Rifle Association has not been standing idle. “Supporting the Second Amendment doesn’t mean that one cares more about guns than kids, it means that they want to fight for their right to protect them,” the NRA said earlier this month. But the NRA was unable to stop the state of Florida from passing a new law that raises the minimum purchase age for firearms to 21 years old. While the NRA has filed suit against the law, it raises the question – if that could happen in a state with full Republican control of the state government – could that be repeated in other states or Congress?
3. Will guns make a difference in the 2018 mid-terms? In 1994, the issue of gun control and gun rights was a factor as Republicans swept their way into power in both the House and Senate. Guns weren’t the only reason – but votes in 1993 and 1994 related to the Brady Bill, and an assault weapons ban gave the NRA ample reason to pour money into that mid-term election, which only helped the GOP that November. I’m not saying this year is going to be 1994 in reverse, but one cannot ignore that possibility that calls for gun violence might spur many more Democrats to vote. And if there is a big change in Congress, that could always change the dynamic on guns and other issues.
4. Bipartisanship still exists on ‘universal’ background checks. While there seems to be little chance at this point for any major switch on guns in the Congress, one existing plan on expanding background checks to almost all guns sales is still knocking around on Capitol Hill. Backed by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the plan won the very public support of President Trump at a White House meeting with lawmakers, as Mr. Trump then told Toomey he and other Senators were ‘afraid’ of the NRA – though Mr. Trump soon backed away from his call for action on the issue. In 2013, Manchin-Toomey won 54 votes in the Senate, but failed to overcome a filibuster. It would be interesting to see a vote on that before the November elections.
5. Florida’s new ’21 to buy’ law gets push in Congress. As mentioned above, if the Florida legislature – run by the GOP – and a Republican Governor can raise the minimum purchase age for firearms, then you cannot rule out the same happening in other states, or in te Congress. A bill to do that (H.R. 5398) already has three Republicans on board – Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL), Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), and Rep. Peter King (R-NY). In a federal lawsuit filed earlier this month, the NRA labeled the idea “wholly unconstitutional.” The main sponsor is Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL). Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is in his district.