Democrats are Running on Gun Control in 2018

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As we approach the mid-term election, an analysis of campaign advertising done by USA Today has found that so far this year, around 82,000 took a gun control stance as opposed to some 57,500 that were against. The reporting doesn’t go into detail about the exact positions taken other than to say that the spots “may call for increased restrictions on guns or opposition to the National Rifle Association.”

This comes after several decades of hesitation in the Democratic Party to be clear about their policy goals with regard to guns following the losses in 1994 after the passage of the “Assault Weapons” Ban. And it runs counter to the divisions that have shown up previously between Democrats in blue states and big cities and those running in districts that lean Republican, especially in rural districts.

But the consensus among Democratic candidates and voters is that recent high profile mass shootings such as the one in Parkland, Florida in February has given them an opportunity to win in November and to drive through new restrictions on gun rights.

Poll numbers in favor of gun control spike after an event that stays on the nightly news, and there is also a sharp partisan separation in opinions on what laws we ought to have, but a survey released by the Gallup organization in June shows the two parties as nearly perfect mirror images of each other, with eighty-eight percent of Republicans and twenty-four percent of Democrats having a favorable view of the NRA and sixty-nine percent of the former being satisfied with our current regulations, while seventy-nine percent of the latter expressed their dissatisfaction.

This U-shaped curve in our politics worries the talking heads in the media who think that compromise and shared feeling are the highest virtues, but it is also a realistic concern, given that the law relating to the exercise of rights will be formed in a free society ultimately by the guidance of the voters, and thus forming solid majorities in favor of rights is the safest course. That being said, there is good reason to think that the Democrats are a day late and a dollar short in their current approach.

The federal judiciary is moving rightward. Assuming that Brett Kavanaugh will be confirmed, his appointment is but the latest of many Trump nominees who have been placed on the bench from district courts on up. With Heller and McDonald already being treated as precedent and Kavanaugh’s position on gun control, the trend is in favor of gun rights.

As much as I hate to rest on the courts alone, the probable outcome for the next many years will be a swing against restrictions and for greater exercise. With that in mind, I have advice for the Democratic Party.

Gun control advocates have been telling us for a while now that all they really want is gun safety. I’ve always assumed that to be so much propaganda—if I’m willing to presume that the person saying it to me is knowledgeable and intelligent. But as controls are increasingly found to be unconstitutional, the groups in question will have to decide how to stay relevant, and advocating for actual safety is something that they could usefully do—promoting training classes, reliability in manufacture, and supervision of children around firearms come to mind.

The problem for advocates of control is that as the courts turn increasingly against them, they’ll have to learn how to use persuasion, not force. That may be impossible for them, and there are no guarantees in politics. How the 2018 election will go is still an open question. Those of us who value gun rights still have to remind our representatives that our support for them is contingent on their support for the basic principle of liberty that is at the heart of our national ideals.