Truth and Consequences
Truth and Consequences
Is This Time Different?

Is This Time Different?

Will the anger over the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas finally lead Congress to act?

I’m Michael A. Cohen, and this is Truth and Consequences: A no-holds-barred look at the absurdities, hypocrisies, and surreality of American politics. If you received this email - or you are a free subscriber - and you’d like to subscribe: you can sign up below.

If you missed my Zoom chat on Friday with Shannon Watts, I’ve uploaded it above — and I’m making it available to all subscribers. We all need constructive ideas on how to deal with gun violence in America, and Shannon brings the goods. This was a great conversation with someone who has dedicated herself to saving American lives from guns. Please give it a listen — and support Moms Demand Action.

One topic we touched on was whether this time is different. That means is this the mass shooting that will finally lead to legislative action. If you asked me to make a prediction, I would say, “no, nothing will change.” Sorry to be so cynical, but I’ve been writing about this issue too long ever to believe that anything will change.

But, having said that, if this time is different, here’s why it might be the case.

People are Angry

Flame Head GIFs | Tenor

I mentioned this in my post last week, but the one thing that has struck me more than anything else about the response to Uvalde is that “the powerlessness to stop these tragedies isn’t leading to apathy; it’s leading to mind-numbing fury.”

People I’ve spoken to, some of whom are largely apathetic about politics, have exploded in anger when talking about Uvalde. The first emotion is not to sympathize with the victims' parents (though that always happens). Instead, it’s a fury that these shootings keep happening — and it’s being directed at our nation’s leaders for not doing anything to stop them.

After Newtown, the overwhelming response was one of sadness and shock. Ten years ago, mass murder in the nation’s school was still somewhat unusual. After all, it had been 13 years since Columbine. Now school shootings are practically routine. That they are still happening a decade after the massacre of more than 20 first graders — and again in an elementary school — is, I believe, partly responsible for fueling the current anger.

The other crucial part of this is the botched response by the Uvalde police, which it now seems may have led to a greater loss of life. But keep in mind, stories about how poorly the police handled this active shooter situation trickled out after a few days. Yet, the national anger over this shooting was there immediately.

There’s something else here, too. I haven’t been able to get this tweet by John Harwood out of my head:

The GOP’s arguments about mental health, good guys with guns, more religious faith leads to less gun violence, and complaints that gun safety laws don’t work, so why bother, are meant to distract public attention away from guns as the cause of gun violence. They are not real arguments. They are, as Harwood points out, empty talking points. Rarely has that felt more true than in this particular incident. The killer literally waited until he turned 18 to purchase an AR-15. Why? Because he was too young to buy one before then. There’s a pretty good example of gun laws keeping firearms out of the hands of “bad guys” … until they didn’t. Raise the age limit to 21 for purchasing a long gun and maybe Uvalde, and, before that, Buffalo (where the shooter was also 18) never happens.

I tend to think that the constant reputation of these fallacious talking points only reinforces that anger over Uvalde. To tell Americans that this latest incident is a result of a national mental health crisis when we are the only country in the world with mass shootings (and certainly not the only country to have citizens who suffer from mental illness) is the political equivalent of urinating on my leg and telling me it’s raining. So too is the argument that we need to arm teachers and turn schools into reinforced garrisons, especially when we now find out that the police in Uvalde waited 48 minutes to enter the classroom where the shooter had barricaded himself. For the small subset of Americans who love guns more than they do people, such rhetorical sleights of hand might work. But for the rest of us, not so much.

People Are Angry … So What?

Of course, just because people are angry, doesn’t mean that Congress will finally pass gun control legislation. Here’s one scenario in which things could turn out differently.

If you accept my argument that people are furious and that a good portion of that anger (though not all of it) is being directed at the GOP, this has the potential to be a political problem. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t think that to be the case, but we may only be weeks away from the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, which would mean that Republicans would be entering the midterms with two issues going against them … and likely with more upscale, suburban, female voters. Would that be enough to cost the GOP the House and possibly the Senate? Probably not.

But as this classic scene from the movie “Casino” reminds us … is that really a risk worth taking? (warning: violent content)

If you’re Mitch McConnell, one could imagine making the calculation that in a highly favorable political environment, in which Republicans are heavily favored to pick up seats in Congress, it’s best to take politically toxic issues off the table. Abortion isn’t going anywhere. Republicans are going to have to bite the bullet on that one. But when it comes to guns, McConnell could easily let off some steam by allowing 10 Republicans to cross the aisle and break the filibuster on gun control legislation. For some of them, it will be in their political interest to be on the same side as public opinion. For the other 40 Republicans, they can be on the side of the mouth-breathing gun nuts that represent the GOP base. The cynical will argue that McConnell would never do this … except he did last year when a handful of Republicans backed a Democratic effort to end the filibuster on infrastructure legislation and eventually pass the bill.

Passing anything on gun control, would take heat off of Republicans in Congress. They can say, “look, we’re willing to work with Democrats on critical legislation. Now put us in charge.”

Right on cue, Ron Brownstein has a new piece which some interesting data on how abortion and guns could disrupt the the 2022 election — and in particular give Democrats a leg up in suburban America:

Attitudes about guns and abortion may represent Democrats' best chance in these places. Public polling shows that large majorities of college-educated voters side with Democratic views on both issues. Nearly 70% of college-educated adults, for instance, said they opposed overturning Roe v. Wade in a nationwide CNN poll conducted by SSRS in May. Among college-educated adults, nearly 9 in 10 supported universal background checks for gun purchases, and more than 7 in 10 backed a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines in a nationwide Pew Research Center poll last year, according to detailed results provided to CNN by Pew. Nearly 9 in 10 college graduates also opposed a policy proliferating in Republican-controlled states: allowing people to carry concealed weapons without permits in public places.

State polls underline that message. In California, a state with multiple competitive US House races, 69% of college-educated adults said they were more likely to vote for a candidate who supported maintaining Roe, compared with just 12% who said they wanted a candidate committed to overturning it, according to a recent Public Policy Institute of California survey. Even in Texas, University of Texas/Texas Tribune polls have found that nearly 6 in 10 residents with college degrees oppose both the complete ban on abortion that will snap into effect there this summer if the Supreme Court overturns Roe and the 2021 state law allowing permitless carry of firearms.

If you’re Mitch McConnell and the congressional Republican leadership you want this election to be about inflation, the economy, and an unpopular incumbent president. If abortion and guns rise to the top of the 2022 campaign agenda it doesn’t mean Republicans lose, but it makes what should be a political slam dunk a tad more contested. Clearing the deck on guns and taking that issue off the table for Democrats gives Republicans a better opportunity in November.

Now I want to be clear that I’m not making a prediction. My general assumption is that most Republicans will oppose any gun control measure in Congress because for most of them it’s in their political interest to do so. But, if this time ends up being different, it’s because Republicans will conclude that allowing to Democrats to pass something on guns is a better political path forward heading into midterm elections than obstruction.

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Truth and Consequences
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