The future of any legislative restrictions on gun control rests on two significant political considerations. In the wake of the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, all polling is showing overwhelming, bi-partisan support throughout the country for a number of measures that even the President has suggested he might or even would support. This is true now, but the question is always for how long this issue will sustain public attention and if or whether the President will change his mind.
Based on most previous shooting tragedies even when the White House has taken an active lead in urging action on gun control, time passes and public interest wanes. Congress—especially Members from rural States as well as most Republicans—tends to follow the public. As with many initiatives there frequently is excitement and then interest fades; thus, the issue will be if following the current shooting tragedy the focus of an aroused public will be sustained or will dissipate.
Specifically, the apparent significant voices being heard from Republicans suggest that their constituencies appear interested in congressional action. Polls are suggesting well over 75% of Republicans support controlling the availability of assault weapons as well as more thorough and lengthier background checks. In addition, there is widespread support for “red flag” laws.
The political wrinkle in addressing measures involving gun control continues to be concern and fear of the financial power of the National Rifle Association. Members of Congress recognize the deep political pockets of the NRA and the capacity it has in many districts—especially rural and Republican ones—to make or a break a campaign or finance a challenge against a supporter of gun control. Republicans, especially in the Senate, need to evaluate their own vulnerability to personally challenge the NRA, especially if the President does not lead the way.
Members could soften the consequences for their support for gun control legislation if they knew the President would veto such bills and they lacked the votes to override his veto. This assumes that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell still will be prepared to bring a bill to the Senate Floor when the Congress returns in September. Members realize, even Democrats opposed to gun control in the House, that the President can give them false cover in their support of measures when they expect the President ultimately will reject the bill.
Particularly for Republicans there is an additional concern. President Trump has repeatedly taken all sorts of positions on gun control measures, even over the past week. They have also watched him deal with legislative debates throughout the past two and half years in an unpredictable and inconsistent manner. This intensifies their own anxieties.
As does the President, Members of Congress understand the financial clout of the NRA. The NRA fears that if they lose one political fight, it will open the floodgates to other legislative initiatives which will further limit the availability of guns in the country. Finally, Republican Members who might be ready to support gun control legislation, are concerned that a threat from the NRA not to support Trump’s re-election as generously as it did in 2016 could swing the President to a much more equivocating position.
Addressing the availability of guns may be couched in a Second Amendment cover, but the debate is no longer a constitutional or legal one. It has become strictly one of power and control; politics. As long as this situation persists, the American people will continue to face repeated and even more frequent horrific tragedies.