This article was originally posted at Englin Consulting - A consulting firm that helps organizations, causes, and campaigns move people to action to impact policy and politics.
It seems like ages ago, but it’s been just over a week since the U.S. Senate failed to pass what would have been the first major piece of gun reform legislation in nearly two decades.The Senate was voting to require background checks on more of the 40% of annual gun purchases that are not currently subject to them. The policy had as close to unanimous support among the American people as anything does - Republicans, Democrats, even NRA members agree that background cheecks should be the law of the land. Yet, sixty U.S. Senators couldn't agree to pass the bill. (And yes, sixty are required because of the arcane rules of the Senate that require sixty votes to end debate.)
So, what are we to make of what happened?What if you care about something that doesn’t enjoy such widespread popular agreement? Is there any chance at all anything can happen on any issue if something that should be basically uncontroversial can’t happen?Once we finished banging our heads on the wall, here’s where the team at Englin Consulting landed:
1. It was all theater anyway.
What would have happened if the Senate had mustered 60 votes to pass universal background checks?Not much.The House is less likely than the Senate to pass any responsible gun legislation. Even if the Senate had passed the bill, it would have only gone on to die a quick death in a House committee.Sad, but true.
2. Passion matters.
Yes, big majorities of Democrats and Republicans alike agree on commonsense gun violence prevention measures like universal background checks.But in politics, sentiment only matters insofar as it’s backed up by action. And in the case of gun reforms, the action is heavily weighted on the pro-gun side. According to a recent Washington Post poll:
- Gun owners are less likely to support background checks.
- Gun owners are nearly twice as likely as non-gun owners to have contacted their Member of Congress on gun control
- Gun owners are four times more likely to have given money to an organization they agree with on guns than non-gun owners.
Most important, but buried in the data
“Four in 10 gun activists — defined as those who have either contacted a politician or donated money — would rule out voting for a candidate with whom they disagree on gun policy but with whom they agree on other issues. That compares with just over a quarter of non-gun activists who would rule out a politician who took a position opposite theirs on guns.”Lots of people agree on background checks, but most of the people passionate enough to act and vote on it are against it. For an elected official inclined against risk-taking, that’s the most important data point.
3. There’s actually a lot happening on guns.
What’s happening on guns is happening in the states, and most of it goes in the win column for pro-gun forces.
While the country was focused on the theater of the Senate failing to pass a doomed bill, 15 states passed 25 laws loosening regulations on guns. Most expanded the number of places it’s legal to carry a gun (like churches and college classrooms) or made it easier to get a concealed carry permit.
Four states passed laws tightening gun regulations, including expanding background checks, restricting concealed carry, and expanding assault weapons bans.
So, as is true for so many things - equality, choice, infrastructure, education, health care, the environment - Washington, DC, gets the lion’s share of progressive attention and activity, but almost all of the winning and losing is happening at the state level.