President Donald Trump, fishing for excuses to do nothing on gun safety, insisted Wednesday that there is “no appetite” for banning assault weapons. In fact, there is deep hunger for this and other gun measures in the aftermath of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio.
A Morning Consult/Politico poll finds, “Seven in 10 voters, including 54 percent of Republicans, said they support a ban on assault-style weapons, according to the Aug. 5-7 survey — and even greater shares backed other provisions such as banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines, requiring a person to be 21 or older in order to purchase a gun and imposing a 3-day waiting period to take a gun home.” While it is true that a plurality of Republican men, Trump’s strongest base of support, disapproves of an assault weapons ban, nearly two-thirds of Republican women, an increasingly problematic group for the GOP, somewhat or strongly support a ban. Moreover:
“Fourteen percent of Republicans said stricter gun laws were the most effective tool to prevent mass shootings, similar to the 17 percent who said the best solution was allowing more private citizens to carry guns and less than the 21 percent who opted for putting more emphasis on God and morality in society.
“What’s more, GOP voters were just as likely to strongly oppose (24 percent) stricter gun control laws in the United States as they were to strongly support (23 percent) them, and 73 percent said that protecting the rights of Americans to own guns took precedence over limiting gun ownership.”
There’s practically no “appetite,” as Trump put it, for regulating video games, which Trump baselessly asserts is a cause of mass shootings. (Video games have worldwide distribution; gun access is much easier in America than in other countries with few if any mass shootings.)
Trump and his Republican cohorts, as they are on everything from climate change to health care to immigration reform to abortion, have allowed themselves to become hostage to a small, loud and unreasonable segment of the electorate. Combined with money and threats of political pressure from the National Rifle Association and loudmouth commentary on Fox News, there’s sufficient force behind gun absolutism to keep Republicans from solidly red jurisdictions from taking action.
However, just as we saw in the 2018 midterms when Republican efforts to destroy the Affordable Care Act cost them dearly among women, especially in the suburbs, the party’s intransigence on guns may cost them votes in blue and purple regions, helping to energize the Democratic base.
Opinion is divided on whether this time, federal legislative action on guns is possible. The Washington Post reports:
“ ‘I think there’s a decent chance we get a background check bill,’ ” said Jim Kessler, a Democratic strategist with the centrist Third Way think tank who worked in Congress to advance gun-control legislation.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, is urging the state’s Republican legislature to expand background checks. At least two House Republicans with relatively pro-gun records say they would support banning automatic weapons and/or high-capacity magazines: Reps. Michael Turner of Ohio and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. A number of high-profile Republican senators have said they are open to legislation such as red-flag measures and even background checks. Some Senate Republicans, including Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania, are taking the lead on developing legislation.
Nevertheless, the political climate has shifted. The weight of public opinion has moved, and Democratic reticence on guns has ended. All the Democratic presidential candidates who have spoken up this week support a variety of measures from gun registration to background checks, an assault weapons ban, a limit on magazines and tougher enforcement of errant gun dealers. Democrats in the House and Senate plainly see there is political advantage in making Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who refuses to bring gun legislation to the floor, the villain.
Even if newfound enthusiasm for gun legislation doesn’t produce results with this president, the advantage that the NRA once had (enthusiasm of a throng of one-issue voters) may be fading. That means 2020 could see further losses for the NRA’s pet “A rating” candidates.
Together with climate change, racial justice, immigration, health care and simple human decency, guns may become part of the glue that holds the Democratic coalition of women, college-educated voters, younger people and nonwhites together. Just as the NRA made gun extremism a fundamental tenet of the right (along with climate-change denial, anti-immigrant fervor and isolationism), the gun safety forces now have the chance to make support for gun legislation part of the political identity of otherwise diverse voters.
Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post.