Wednesday, May 25, 2022


Writing for The Hill, former Democratic congressman Steve Israel explains why Republicans in Congress won't vote even for popular gun bills.
We had just completed a series of votes in an Appropriations Committee markup of funding for the Department of Justice. My fellow Democrats and I had proposed language to allow for strengthened background checks, to ban people who are on the “No Fly” list from easily obtaining military-style assault weapons and similar measures. Each amendment was defeated in a largely party-line vote....

In the elevator, a friend – a pleasant, reasonable, moderate Republican – complained that the votes were politically motivated — forcing members in swing districts to choose between their pro-gun bases and more moderate constituents. I argued that the polling in districts like his was clear: Nearly 80 percent support for the very measures he’d just voted against, including a majority (back then, at least) of Republicans.

... He admitted that despite personally supporting the measures, he had no choice but to vote against them. In a heavily polarized House, where districts were increasingly ruby red versus bright blue, any vote for any gun safety would invite a primary opponent and ignite his likely defeat. No issue, he told me, motivated his base more intensely than guns. Moderates would forgive and forget that he voted against background checks; but his base would never forgive him for voting for them.

... That congressman in the elevator had you all figured out. You forgive and forget too easily. And by doing so, you keep electing people who care more about surviving the next primary than they do about the survival of your kids in their classrooms.
There are Republicans who tell pollsters they support many of these measures, but not enough of them will rally around a GOP candidate who supports them. Less extreme Republican officeholders know this, so they go extreme on guns. And needless to say, those moderate voters would find it unthinkable to vote Democratic in a general election, even if the result might be fewer schoolchildren shot in the face.

So Republican candidates have to embrace gun extremism in order to win, and as The Bulwark's Jonathan Last notes, the party of gun extremism is the one that controls national gun policy.
[The] leverage which our system currently affords to the Republican party— which is a new, but so far durable feature of American politics—makes it so we have results like this: Gun reform [in general] is favored by a slim majority made up primarily of Democrats and independent voters, so it is impossible to enact....

If you believe that this state of affairs is suboptimal for our republic, then maybe Democrats should have made the District of Columbia a state instead of spending their political capital on an infrastructure bill.

That wouldn’t have fixed the gun problem, but reducing the leverage that rural voters have over the rest of the country is a necessary precondition to any progress on this front....

Nothing will change until the system is rebalanced, either through the passing of laws or the shifting of demographics.
If anything, the balance of the system is likely to tip even more in the GOP's favor, as more and more people migrate to large states with lots of jobs. Sparsely populated rural states will hollow out even more, but each of these states will still have two senators, the same as California. It's bad, and it will get worse:
Right now, the Senate is split evenly in half, but the 50 Democratic senators represent 41.5 million more people than the 50 Republican senators.

By 2040, if population trends continue, 70% of Americans will be represented by just 30 senators, and 30% of Americans by 70 senators.
So moderate Republican voters don't vote for Republicans (or Democrats) who are moderate on guns, and the Republican extremists who win office as a result of this are likely to dominate the Senate indefinitely. Unless there's a way out of this I'm not aware of, we're screwed.

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