Gun control legislation is almost never passed by Congress, even though there is widespread public support for action in the wake of mass shootings such as those in Buffalo and Uvalde.
That’s why we did not expect President Joe Biden to sign a bill on June 25, 2022, containing a set of arms reform provisions known as the “Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.”
Based on our expertise studying public opinion and the U.S. Congress, here are four reasons why we believe some gun control measures have been put in place this time around.
1. Public attention
Public opinion is fickle. What worries people on a given day may not affect them shortly thereafter, especially if the news cycle loses sight of it.
In this case, the issue of gun control did not disappear from the public agenda after the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings in May. It has increased in importance. While gun control was not at the top of the public’s to-do list of Congress just after the shooting, by mid-June the economy – 48% to 51% respectively – was a top priority. In addition, public support for stricter gun control laws has increased in the meantime.
What happened to increase public support and demand for gun control? One of many factors is that Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican and loyal Second Amendment supporter, came out in public and stated, “I am interested in what we can do to make the tragic events that have taken place in the future less likely.” Within a week of the Uvalde shooting, he and sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, announced they would begin meetings to discuss possible gun legislation. The real possibility of reform has kept the issue on the agenda of the media, and therefore the public.
Media and public attention were also sparked by a passionate public plea from Uvalde native and Hollywood star Matthew McConaughey at the White House, which went viral on social media. In addition, emotional testimony at a hearing by the U.S. House Committee provided graphic details of the horrific experiences of students, teachers, and parents.
2. Non-controversial provisions
The new law improves background checks for gun buyers between the ages of 18 and 21, provides money for states that introduce “red flag” laws that allow a judge to take away someone’s gun if they are deemed dangerous to themselves or others. funding for mental health and school safety, and closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole”, which allows abusive boyfriends and even snipers access to weapons. How did these provisions get past the Republican filibusters, which thwarted other arms reform bills?
One key factor is that provisions like this are receiving widespread support from both Democrats and Republicans.
Reports suggest that Cornyn, the chief Republican negotiator in the Senate, submitted internal polling numbers showing broad support for these specific provisions among gun owners to his fellow Republicans in the Senate during deliberations. This reassurance of supporting their base probably helped sway the 15 Republican senators who ultimately voted for the bill. In the end, those 15 Republican votes were decisive in creating a filibuster-proof majority – at least 60 senators – in support of the bill.
While the legislation is certainly an achievement, it is far from what the vast majority of the public actually wants, including most Republican voters. In the most recent Morning Consult / Politico poll, the public expressed strong majority support for aspects of legislation rejected in these negotiations. The mid-June poll shows that 89% support universal background research; 81% support a mandatory waiting period of three days; 80% support the sale of assault weapons only to those age 21 or older and 79% support raising the minimum age for any firearm purchase to 21.
Thus, while the law is making some progress, it is not clear whether the public’s attention will move, and whether the public will continue to push for further action.
3. Who has an election?
Contrary to expectations, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has given the green light to the two-party effort for gun control. This was clear when he appointed Cornyn to serve as the GOP’s chief negotiator.
McConnell’s support for Democrats’ approval of a bill represents a facelift. During Obama’s presidency, McConnell discouraged GOP senators from supporting Democratic proposals because it would make the ruling Democrats seem reasonable and effective.
Why the flip? McConnell seems to be betting this time that it’s his party that should look reasonable on the way to the 2022 midterm elections. Republicans only need to get a total of one more seat to make McConnell the Senate Majority Leader again. Close races take place in “purple” states such as Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania. The road to victory in these states goes through moderate suburban voters, who are supporters of gun reform.
A two-party gun reform bill could help vaccinate the Republican Party and its candidates against Democratic charges of extremism and a lack of concern about the safety of American school children. This thought was apparently in McConnell’s mind when he said shortly before the bill: “I hope it will be considered favorably by voters in the suburbs who we must reclaim to hopefully be in the majority next year.”
Not only did the new law provide coverage for prospective Republican candidates in purple states, but it also required little red state Republicans to cast a vote that would put them in election danger.
Of the 15 Republican senators who voted for the bill, only two are eligible for re-election this year: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who does not have to run in a closed Republican primary, and Tod Young of Indiana, who is already running his Republican primary. won it. by the time of the vote. Another four of the 15 GOP Senate supporters are stepping down and will not face voters: Roy Blunt, Richard Burr, Rob Portman and Pat Toomey.
4. Democratic leaders’ need for a legislative victory
Democrats, specifically Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, have apparently also reconsidered their election strategy when it comes to gun control.
In the past, Democrats have often rejected Republican-sponsored arms reform proposals as inadequate half measures – even going so far as to vote against them. In turn, Democrats are offering gun control measures that they know in advance that they have no chance of succeeding, because Republicans are definitely against them and will have to go on record to do so.
Republicans claim that Democrats prefer to leave gun control as a political issue to embarrass them rather than make sincere compromises to get something done.
After Buffalo and Uvalde, Schumer faced the well-known pressure of progressives not to be content with what they saw as watered-down solutions to gun violence. Schumer could have once again forced Republicans to vote against universal background checks or a ban on assault weapons.
But the context was somewhat different than in 2016.
For more than a year, Senate Democrats have been unable to approve any version of President Biden’s signature Build Back Better plan, or much of any notable legislation. The party’s need for some kind of policy victory could very well have weighed more than taking a principled stand and fighting for a more comprehensive but legislative doomed bill.
Schumer’s decision to become its chief negotiator, sen. Allowing Chris Murphy to abandon certain Democratic priorities to compromise with Republicans was potentially crucial for the U.S. Congress to finally get a weapons reform bill implemented after decades of frustration.