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On Guns, Half-Measures Will Do
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.
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Tonight I will be live blogging the January 6 committee hearings for MSNBC. You can check out the link here — and we’ll be starting up around 6:00 PM. Or you can follow me on Twitter. Since I’m sure there will be a great deal of interest in the hearings I’m going to do a quick Zoom Chat tomorrow at around 12:30 to discuss the proceedings. This will be a little shorter than usual but will give us a chance to talk about what happens tonight. Here’s the link for the Zoom Chat.
Mike Ehrmantraut Is Wrong
On Wednesday afternoon, the House of Representatives passed a comprehensive set of gun control measures, including a prohibition on the sale of semiautomatic weapons to Americans under the age of 21 and a ban on the sale of large-capacity magazines. It’s an ambitious package that has virtually no chance of becoming law because of Senate Republican opposition.
In the Senate, talks are continuing on a more modest set of reforms, including expanded resources for mental health access, funding for school safety, and money to incentivize states to enact red flag laws. However, progress on raising the age for purchasing semiautomatic weapons or comprehensive background checks is unlikely to happen.
Such a package is not nearly commensurate to the gun violence crisis in America. It’s a bandaid on a gaping wound — and a weak response to a problem that merits strong legislative action. Nonetheless, it must pass the Senate.
For years Americans have been clamoring for Congress to do something on gun violence — and those calls have consistently fallen on deaf ears. Instead, after every mass shooting, Republicans declare it’s too soon for new laws or disingenuously claim that gun control measures won’t help. And nothing changes. This has clearly made the gun crisis worse, but it is also creating a crisis for democracy.
How can Americans have any confidence in their elected leaders if they cannot do anything, even the barest measure, to stop this steady drumbeat of gun violence? Passage of gun control legislation, even if it’s at best a half measure, will send a message to Americans that their elected leaders are capable of responding, in real-time, to an actual crisis. If this legislation passes and the sky doesn’t fall, or jackbooted thugs don’t start confiscating guns from Americans, maybe it opens the path to further moves down the road. It’s a long shot, I know, but on guns, America needs to start somewhere. For example, if Republicans in Congress strengthen red flag laws, it could give political cover for state legislatures in purple and red states to do the same. That could save lives.
Failure to pass legislation in the wake of Uvalde will further erode Americans’ dwindling faith in their democratic institutions. So, action is needed, even if it’s far less than it should be.
It’s pathetic that we live in a country where undoubtedly inadequate measures are seen as a success story, but to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, “you go to war with the constitutional system you have, not the constitutional system you might want.”
The GOP’s Pro-Gun Radicalism
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this polling nugget published by Politico the day after the mass shooting in Uvalde.
Requiring background checks on all gun sales: Eighty-eight percent strongly or somewhat support; 8% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +80
Creating a national database with info about each gun sale: Seventy-five percent strongly or somewhat support; 18% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +57
Banning assault-style weapons: Sixty-seven percent strongly or somewhat support; 25% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +42
Preventing sales of all firearms to people reported as dangerous to law enforcement by a mental health provider: Eighty-four percent strongly or somewhat support; 9% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +75
Making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks: Eighty-one percent strongly or somewhat support; 11% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +70
Requiring all gun owners to store their guns in a safe storage unit: Seventy-seven percent strongly or somewhat support; 15% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +62
These numbers are simply extraordinary for a country as politically polarized as the United States. There is near consensus among Americans — Republicans and Democrats — that something must be done to limit access to high-powered weapons. Yet, when Congress voted on a package of gun control measures yesterday, it received the support of 5 House Republicans (four of whom are retiring). When the House voted in 2021 on tightening background checks for gun purchases, only 8 out of 210 Republicans voted for the legislation. Remember that only 8 percent of Americans oppose requiring background checks on all gun sales.
So that means 96% of House Republicans are consistently siding with the most radical and extreme 10 percent of pro-gun Americans. Ordinarily, this would be a major political problem, but what saves House Republicans is that for even those rank-and-file Republican voters who support background checks and limits on gun purchases, firearms have become a cultural signifier — and a way of differentiating Republicans from Democrats. It’s also a function of Republicans telling their voters that Democrats want to take away their guns and them believing it.
But this is truly a bizarre situation: Republican voters are electing candidates blocking policies they support for basically symbolic reasons. For all the talk about gun reform, this conundrum is the best explanation for why gun control legislation never goes anywhere in Congress. Republican voters keep electing and reelecting people who share their cultural preferences rather than their policy preferences. Of course, this is true on many issues, but nowhere is it starker than on guns. If there’s ever going to be any progress in changing the politics of guns, it’ll only happen when Republicans pay a political price for their extreme positions. And that relies on GOP voters prizing gun safety over symbolic politics. Maybe Uvalde changes the equation for some Republican. But as long as they continue to elect people who act against their policy preferences on guns, congressional Republicans will continue to adopt the most extreme position possible — and not much will change.
What’s Going On?
Good piece by Politico’s Sarah Ferris on why tonight’s January 6 hearings are unlikely to have a significant political impact. At Vox, Zack Beauchamp makes a similar argument. To be sure, these hearings are vitally important, and it’s critical that Congress present the American people with a narrative of what happened that day — and in the months leading up to the insurrection. But if anyone is expecting a wholesale change in public opinion, they will likely be disappointed. However, one thing Democrats have going for them is that the only two Republicans on the committee are virulent opponents of the former president. That means the committee will have an unprecedented opportunity to present a clear anti-Trump, anti-Republican narrative. Along the margins, it could influence a few voters who haven’t been paying attention. Maybe.
Pro tip: if you find yourself publicly praising Adolf Hitler, you might be a crazy person ... or a Republican House candidate.
Interesting interview with Russian expert Andrei Soldatov on the current state of the conflict in Ukraine.
In case you weren’t clear on the reference to Mike Ehrmantraut above … here’s the explainer.