The Community Connection
Roadblocks to common-sense gun laws
Sadly, as the recent shootings in Atlanta and Boulder show us, in America it always seems to be an appropriate time to talk about basic gun measures.
Before we go any further, let’s get one thing out of the way: In spite of what “Big Gun” likes to say, no legislation has been proposed that would result in taking legally owned guns away from law-abiding Americans. Most Americans support gun ownership for selfdefense, hunting, and sport, but also feel there is a need for better common-sense regulation.
One measure recently passed by the U.S. House (H.R.8) would require a background check on all transfers of firearms (except in rare cases, as between family members). You will be forgiven if you have forgotten that in 2019 the House passed a very near copy of H.R.8 that was also called H.R.8. The Senate received the 2019 iteration of the bill, read it twice, and took no further action.
Recent polling on the issue is thin, but in a poll the Morning Consult conducted this month 84% of Americans supported this measure, including 77% of the Republicans polled. This meshes well with a 2016 Fox News poll showing 91% support, and a 2019 NPR/PBS/ Marist poll showing 89%.
Given how much time we spend talking about how wide the partisan divide in this country has become, anything with that much support should be a home run. (Speaking of home runs, professional baseball counts about 52% of Americans as fans, making America’s pastime 38% less popular than universal background checks.)
The Journal of the American Medical Association has published a handful of studies on gun related deaths over the last several years consistently showing that states with stronger gun laws have lower incidences of gun related homicide and gun related suicide. Johns Hopkins University found that states that require a permit to purchase a firearm saw rates of gun related homicide drop by 14%. Five of the seven states (71%) that require a permit to purchase any gun fall in the bottom half of the states by rate of gun related homicide.
Universal background checks are by no means a panacea, but the evidence strongly suggests that they do reduce gun related violence. Polling has shown for years that universal background checks are supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans. The House has passed H.R.8 twice in the two most recent Congresses. So what is the barrier to this extremely popular, commonsense measure? In a word, the Senate.
If the Senate vote reflected the will of its constituents (as it is supposed to), then a Senate vote on such a measure should be 84-16 with roughly 39 GOP senators (77%) voting yea. In an unexpected twist, senators from both sides would be seen to be doing their jobs, working together, and passing overwhelmingly popular legislation.
Similar measures have come to a vote in the Senate three times over the last 22 years, here is how it went: in 1999, 11% of Republican senators voted to close the gun show loophole. In 2015, only 8%. By the time we got to 2016, only one brave and lonely GOP senator voted for the measure. This does not even count the 2013 Manchin-Toomey proposal that—even with a GOP co-sponsor—could not muster enough support to overcome a filibuster in the upper chamber.
In a lot of cases in Washington there is plenty of political blame to go around. But that is not the case here, because in 1999, 98% of the Democratic senators voted to close the gun show loophole, 98% voted again to close the loophole in 2015, and 93% voted to close it in
2016. In other words, their votes mirrored public opinion with the kind of precision our founders probably envisioned when they outlined our representative democracy.
One does not need to cast
GOP senators as deliberately defying the will of the entire electorate generally and their own party’s voters in particular. GOP senators have done that all by themselves. The GOP’s elected members have a long and rich history of voting against the interests of their constituents, but on very few issues is it so deliberate and so obvious as on this one, and rarely has the need to act been more dire.