Democrats lose ‘gun control’ – WSJ


If this week’s Senate gun compromise and the Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifles and Pistols Association vs. Bruen to underscore anything is how much gun policy has changed since 1994. The left’s 30-year campaign for broad-based “gun control” is hitting an ever-growing wall.

Media are hailing the Senate bill as the first federal move on guns in decades since President Clinton signed the short-lived “assault weapons” ban. Most honest headlines concede a very important point: this is a compromise on “gun safety”. It is a recognition of what is not in the bill – not a single flagship provision of the left’s gun control agenda. No universal license. No prohibitions on firearm classes or magazine types. No increase in purchase age or purchase limit for firearms. No national database to track gun owners.

Instead, the bulk of this ‘gun’ bill consists of provisions aimed at mental health, safe schools and tougher prosecutions for crimes committed with guns, precisely where where the Conservatives have been insisting for years that the federal government needs to focus. When even Democrats admit their standard prescriptions aren’t valid and strike a deal anyway, it’s a notable political moment.

GOP gripes aside, the small changes the bill makes to existing gun laws are things that even Second Amendment stalwarts (like this columnist) can support. Uploading juvenile judgments and mental health records to the background check system is a no-brainer; blowing out 18 candles does not suddenly make a person a law-abiding citizen. Are you worried that red flag laws in blue states are a constitutional wreck? This bill could help. It contains no terms of reference, and the grants it offers are conditional on states incorporating stricter due process provisions into red flag laws.

The modesty of the bill is an admission that despite Democrats campaigning to leverage mass shootings in gun bans, it remains a long way from 60 votes in the Senate for more gun control. And it reflects how deeply entrenched Second Amendment rights have become over the past few decades, thanks in part to the Supreme Court. Although the press uses every mass shooting to highlight liberal states responding with more gun laws, these states remain a distinct minority.

Most of the country went in the opposite direction. As Thursday’s 6-3 ruling striking down a New York gun law noted, only six states and the District of Columbia still had what are called “may issue” laws — in which licenses firearms are left to the discretion of officials. Forty-three have “must issue” laws, under which licenses are granted to anyone who meets established objective criteria. This number has steadily increased since the late 1980s.

Most notably, 24 of those 43 — along with Vermont, which has no gun licensing system — are “constitutional carry” states, which allow law-abiding adults to buy and carry. firearms without a license. Alaska’s decision in 2003 to rescind its permit requirement opened a floodgate that continues today. A dozen states have adopted or expanded constitutional portage in the past three years alone.

Gun ownership is on the rise, and in new demographics. In an online survey conducted by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, gun retailers who saw an increase in sales said they sold 58% more guns to African-American customers in the first half of 2020 compared to compared to the previous year. The figures were 49% for Hispanics and 43% for Asian Americans. Some 5.4 million people bought a firearm for the first time in 2021, or 30% of all purchases. Despite all the media touting polls that claim to show Americans want “gun control,” that support is concentrated in pockets of urban America. The message is a harder sell in most districts and states, where the conversation these days is increasingly about prosecutors’ failure to enforce existing laws and jail gun criminals.

Meanwhile, even the left understands that the decisions of the High Court since District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) potentially kill key elements of his gun agenda. In Brown, the justices reiterated that the Second Amendment protects the right to bear “common use” weapons. As the media keeps reminding us, AR-15s – and other “assault weapons” the left wants to ban – are quite common these days. Would the Supreme Court accept legislation raising the purchase age to 21, given the long history of 18-year-olds fighting and dying for America?

What politics drove the bipartisan Senate deal? Republicans had a clear interest in moving beyond the gun debate and bringing the medium-term focus back to inflation. Democratic motivation is more complex. Party leaders wanted to show that Democrats can govern and give vulnerable members something new to tell voters. But the compromise decision was also an acceptance of political and legal reality. The idea that “‘we’ll get more later’ is just rank bulls -” an unnamed Democratic senator told Politico this week. “For the foreseeable future, I think that will be the high water mark.”

That could change if the progressives manage to destroy the filibuster or if the composition of the High Court changes. But none are on the immediate horizon, which means Democrats need to rethink. Federal “gun control” – for now and for some time – is a dead letter.

Write to kim@wsj.com.

Newspaper editorial report: Biden says voters should defeat Republicans who disagree with him. Images: AP/AFP/Getty Images Composition: Mark Kelly

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