For Guns, Red States Are Red, Blue States Are Still Blue

If this election said  anything about the politics of guns, it showed that the alignment between political ideology and gun ownership is just about as fixed as it can be.  If you are a pro-gun politician in a red state, the gun issue won’t help you win a close race because everyone in the red states tends to be pro-gun.  If you are a pro-gun politician in a blue state, however, try as you might, the pro-gun folks just can’t swing an election your way and gun control initiatives have a good chance to succeed.

Last year, right around the anniversary of Sandy Hook, the  New York Times ran a state-by-state analysis of new gun statutes that were passed and signed into law.  It turned out that more than 1,500 measures were introduced into state legislatures, of which 39 tightened laws tightened what the Times called “restrictions” and 70 loosened them.  The study showed, not surprisingly, that most of the more restrictive laws were passed where Democrats hold a majority of the legislative seats and the Governor’s Mansion or both, whereas the less-restrictive laws were passed in states that are politically red.

In last week’s election the alignment of red and blue states with looser or tighter gun laws continued its usual course.  Washington passed I-594 because going directly to the voters was a way of getting around a legislature which is more  blue than red but has some Democrats representing areas away from the Coast where gun ownership is supported on both sides.  On the other hand, Alabama passed an amendment to the State Constitution that gave every resident the right to bear arms and required any gun control laws to be subject to ‘strict scrutiny,’ which basically means that no gun control laws will ever be passed.  Could an amendment bringing back the poll tax pass a statewide vote in the Cotton State?  Probably.

malloy                The interesting twist in all of this came in a blue state – Connecticut – where the incumbent Governor held on to win by a thin margin in an election that many thought would go the other day.  The Governor, Dan Malloy, held on to beat Tom Foley, who was challenging him for the second time and Foley tried to remind the voters again and again that if elected, he would try to undo the tough, new gun law that Malloy pushed through the legislature after Sandy Hook.  After the bill went into effect stories circulated about how thousands and thousands of CT residents were refusing to register their assault rifles, but when all was said and done, nobody thought to call out the police to ransack homes and drag in all these alleged non-compliant owners of black guns.

Foley never actually said he would repeal Malloy’s gun law even though again and again he said it went “too far.” But criticizing the new law was one thing, taking credit for it was something else.  And a new poll commissioned by the Center for American Progress suggests that Malloy may actually owe his razor-thin victory, in part, to how voters, particularly female voters responded to his legislation on guns.  It turns out that 43% of nearly 700 voters said that the gun bill made them more likely to send the Governor back to office for another four years, while only 31% felt less likely to vote for him over the gun issue and support for universal background checks among women ran 50 to 19.

It will be interesting to see if the gun issue will play a significant role in the run-up to 2016.  It’s clearly still a “niche” issue, and niche issues can swing tight elections as the Foley campaign found out.  The NRA, whose own approval numbers appear to be slipping, has been trying to sell the idea for years that gun ownership is a basic civil right.  It might be a line that sells in Peoria, but it’s not working in parts of the country that still vote blue.

 

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What’s The Difference Between Roe V. Wade and Heller vs. District of Columbia? Maybe Nothing.

The right to bear arms, as stated in the 2nd Amendment and defined by the SCOTUS in the Heller and McDonald cases, got a boost this week from the most unlikely source; i.e., an abortion-rights case in Alabama where Federal District Court Judge Myron Thompson struck down a 2013 law that would have made it extremely difficult for women to receive abortion services unless they were able to travel long distances from home, thereby creating an undue burden and nullifying the right to an abortion guaranteed by Roe Vs. Wade.

The new law, similar to a measure that was voided in Mississippi, required physicians who performed abortions to be granted credentials in neighboring hospitals, but such credentials are only granted to physicians who live and practice within a limited distance of the particular hospital.  Three of the five abortion clinics in Alabama are currently staffed by physicians who reside in other states and travel to Alabama for the purpose of administering scheduled abortions.  Hence, they could not receive hospital credentials and therefore could not operate their abortion clinics.

  Judge Myron Thompson

Judge Myron Thompson

Judge Thompson heard testimony from numerous witnesses representing both the State of Alabama and the abortion providers, and nearly all of the 172-page decision is a very careful summary of what was said by parties on both sides.  Ultimately the weight of the testimony convinced the jurist that by reducing the number of abortion clinics from five to just two, the State was effectively blocking access to an abortion and therefore could not be reconciled with the rights of women to terminate their pregnancies as stipulated in Roe vs. Wade.

You have to wade through almost the entire decision, however, before you come to the point where women in Alabama seeking an abortion find themselves making common cause with Alabama residents who want to own a gun.  To quote Judge Thompson: “At its core, each protected right is held by the individual: the right to decide to have an abortion and the right to have and use firearms for self-defense.  With this parallelism in mind, the court poses the hypothetical that suppose the government the government were to implement a new restriction on who may sell firearms and ammunition, and further, only two vendors in the State of Alabama were capable of complying with the restriction.  The defenders of this law would be called upon to do a heck of a lot of explaining — and rightly so in the face of an effect so severe.”

Last year Alabama also passed a new gun law that made it easier for residents to receive a concealed-carry license and also allowed for concealed-carry of handguns into certain public events. Alabama has always been a gun-rich state, with per capita gun ownership well above the national norm.  Now I can’t imagine there would ever be as many women in Alabama seeking an abortion as there might be folks looking to buy guns.  But even though Judge Thompson was educated at Yale, he’s Crimson Tide through and through. Abortion might not be a popular issue in an Evangelical state, but when explained as a parallel to the 2nd Amendment, all those God-fearing, Bible-thumpin’ gun owners may just agree that what’s right is a right.

But Thompson’s decision is also a case in point for the folks who want more controls over guns.  Because ultimately in order to make their case for more gun control, people who don’t own guns are going to have to figure out how to talk to people who do.  The last few pages of Judge Taylor’s decision should be required reading for Brady, Everytown and all the rest.  Supporters of the 2nd Amendment and supporters of abortion rights may have more in common than we think.