Now That Gun Control Can Win Elections, What Should We Do?

It’s still to early to make a definitive judgement about how much the election results reflected concerns about gun violence, but it certainly can be said that how America voted on November 6th put to bed the idea that gun control is a toxic issue for the blue team. If anything, regulating gun ownership may have been in the forefront of several contests which flipped from red to blue, nor can it be said that the GOP’s long-time romance with the NRA helped them to any great extent.

             Let’s assume that various gun-control bills are re-introduced in the  116th Congress after January 3rd, 2019, and if the Senate goes blue in 2020, all of a sudden, some serious gun-control legislation has a chance of getting passed. I don’t think this is such a way out assumption, by the way, because we can also assume that mass shooting rampages and day-to-day gun violence will continue to increase. It’s not as if ‘thoughts and prayers’ stops anyone from picking up a gun, right?

The question then becomes: what should Gun-control Nation set as their Numero Uno legislative priority?  The usual suspects: universal background checks, assault weapons ban, raising minimum purchase age, safe storage, required safety course, etc. This is all fine and well except these solutions only bite around the edges of the gun-violence problem.  They don’t get to the core of the issue for one, simple reason; namely, that gun violence is overwhelmingly a function of free access to handguns. And because we are the only advanced country which permits its citizens to own handguns with only minimal, legal restrictions, we are the only advanced country that suffers alarmingly-high levels of gun violence.

I recently published a detailed analysis of the 850,000 crime guns collected by more than 1,000 police organizations between 2010 and 2018. At some point I set up the entire database in Excel and then conducted a word search using the names of manufacturers who have introduced tens of millions of hunting and sporting guns into civilian hands – Remington, Winchester, Browning, Marlin, Savage, et. al. he products from these gun makers accounted for less than 3% of all guns picked up by the police. On the other hand, when I searched under names like Glock, Sig, Springfield and Smith & Wesson, the percentage jumped to half. And most of the remaining guns were various ‘Saturday night’ specials, many of which are no longer being made. But when you load those guns with ammunition and pull the trigger, they still go bang!

Incidentally, at least one-third of the handguns collected by the cops were manufactured prior to 1968.  Which means that you can trace these guns from here to high heaven and never figure out how they ended up in the ‘wrong’ hands. This isn’t meant to be a criticism of universal background checks, it’s simply a necessary corrective for the narrative about the value of universal checks.

Two years ago, nobody imagined the gun issue might play a potent role in the electoral outcomes in 2018. Two years ago nobody imagined that support for stricter gun laws would consistently run above 60%, a level not seen for the last twenty-five years. Which means that when Gun-control Nation tries to figure out their priorities, this isn’t just an exercise in talk.

I have been told again and again by gun-control activists that pushing a strategy to severely limit handgun ownership is a dead end.  I am told that it not only can’t succeed but it will turn off many people, including gun owners, who would otherwise support ‘sensible’ gun laws. I think it’s a stale argument and like the alleged electoral ‘power’ of the NRA, needs to be put to rest.

If the goal is to end gun violence, why start off by pushing laws that simply won’t get you to where you want to go?  If the gun issue played any role in last week’s results, it seems that people are simply fed up. That’s what should guide the gun-control strategy, nothing more, nothing less.

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Did The NRA Win The Election For Trump? Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha.

The boys from Fairfax didn’t wait one second to announce that the $30 million they ponied up for Trump television ads was money well spent; Wayne-o called his members the “special forces that swung this election” and then asked for a few bucks. Chris-o got on the NRA-ILA website and intoned that the election showed that ‘gun rights are not for sale.’ But gun-nut hyperbole notwithstanding, does Trump owe his victory to the NRA?

trump5            In the four ‘firewall’ states (PA, MI, OH, FL) the GOP vote increased 9% – a not-inconsiderable jump. On the other hand, in those same four states, Clinton’s vote in those states showed a deficit of 4%.  Overall, Trump’s gain was greater than HRC’s loss, but had she improved on Obama’s 2012 performance by a measly 2%, the aggregate vote for those four, crucial states would have gone her way.

That’s all fine and well except for the fact that statewide totals varied significantly from state to state.  Trump won PA by 67,000+ votes out of almost 6 million, he grabbed MI by 11,000 out of 5 mill, the gap was wider in Florida (110,000) and in Ohio, wider still (450,000). So let’s get down to county-level votes and see whether the gun vote shows up or it don’t.

Hillary carried 7 Pennsylvania counties clustered around Philadelphia, which delivered 1,725, 927 votes, or 59% of her statewide vote.  Trump won the rural counties which is where there are lots of guns.  Except he won Pennsylvania because he also won urban Erie County, which voted nearly 60% for Obama in 2012.  In Erie he pulled 11,000 more votes in 2016 than Romney pulled in 2012, but he won by less than 3,000 votes. If Hillary had received the same number of Erie votes in 2016 that came out for Obama in 2012, she would have won the Keystone State.

In Michigan Trump won by two-tenths of one percent.  But in 2012 Barack won 20 of the state’s 83 counties, this year HRC prevailed in only 8, including the bloc around Detroit, so the Motor City vote didn’t hold.  Hillary’s vote represented a net loss of more than 75,000 votes – and that took care of that. She didn’t lose votes in Wayne because people didn’t come out; she lost votes because upwards of 60,000 people have moved out of Wayne County in just the last five years.

Michigan happens to be a big gun state, but not in places where Democrats ever go looking for votes.  Other than Marquette, the northern peninsula is politically deep red, there are more hunting rifles sitting in wall racks than people sitting underneath those racks in their La-Z-Boy chairs.  But where Hillary really took a whack was Genesee County, just northwest of Detroit, where 26,000 Democratic votes from 2012 failed to show up in 2016, even though the county still voted blue. What’s the county seat? Flint.  How could anyone take the trouble to vote in Flint?

The Ohio results were more dramatic but just the same.  Trump gained 178,205 votes, mostly in rural counties, maybe gun owners, maybe not.  But the blue team lost 380,259 statewide votes between the two elections – goodbye Buckeye, goodbye. As for the Gunshine State, here we probably do see Advantage NRA, if only because both slates increased statewide totals from 2012 to 2016, but for every new vote that went for HRC, two new votes showed up for Trump.  But if Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania had gone blue, she would have been over the top without the Florida vote.

What made at least three of these four states swing from blue to red was not the power or the voice of the NRA; it was the failure of the Democratic Party to address issues like loss of jobs and economic status in those and other states. The NRA didn’t lead the Trump campaign; it latched onto a campaign that had its own dynamic, its own message and its own success.