This article originally appeared in the Casper Sun Tribune, on August 31st, 2019.
After the recent shootings in Dayton, OH and El Paso, TX, President Trump’s political instincts were to lead legislation to pass universal background checks. He told reporters, “I think we can get something good done,” and announced that Sen. Mitch McConnell was “totally on board.” Let’s hope for the sake of the Republican Party and gun owners that he doesn’t change his mind.
Before I explain why let’s get my gun credentials out of the way. Guns were arguably the most defining part of my family, so much that when my grandfather died his will directed us to spread his ashes over the shooting range he founded.
My own dad was a collector, we had so many guns I couldn’t tell you how many, but I do know that whether it was a hunting or target practice I was pulling the trigger most every weekend I could.
When I went to school in California, I kept my shotgun in the trunk so I could swing by the shooting range after class.
But I don’t just care about my guns. I also care about the Republican Party. Which is why I worry that if the leadership does not get out in front of this issue, they will risk not only their majority in the Senate but the Oval Office as well.
The rest of America is not like Wyoming. By a factor of two-to-one, most Americans don’t even own a gun, and a mere 3% of us own half the guns in the country. Meanwhile, 80% of Americans “worry about the availability of guns,” and twice as many Americans want to make the sale of firearms “more strict.” This is not a liberal phenomenon. Fox News reports that 90% of Trump voters support universal background checks, and nearly half of his voters want to see a ban on assault weapons.
By the way, this is going to get worse with each passing day. The enthusiasm I had on the birthday I got my first shotgun is not shared by the next generation. Today, whenever ten gun owners die, they are replaced by only six new gun owners. This partially explains why gun ownership has fallen 34% since 1973, and why voter’s dissatisfaction with gun laws has nearly doubled in the last decade alone.
Republicans and gun owners need to understand we are at risk of overplaying a lousy hand. We can jump up and down all we want about the Second Amendment, but the truth is most of America couldn’t care less about what we call our “gun rights.” As well, Republican politicians can keep bowing to the demands of the NRA, but the more they do so the more they risk losing gun-friendly seats in Congress, losses that threaten gun owners with more severe restrictions than those currently considered by the President. Ten years ago, the NRA could count on sixty-seven Democrats with an “A-Rating,” enough to block any legislation regardless of who controlled the House and the Senate.
Today that number is a whopping three, leaving gun rights advocates totally dependent on partisan control. As well, in the last ten years, twenty-five Members of Congress have dropped three or more letter grades yet only three of those politicians lost re-election. Of those, one lost to a Democrat with an “F” rating.
This trend against Republicans is seen in nearby Colorado where Republican Sen. Cory Gardner is facing an uphill battle against Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, a recent poll showed close to 90% of Colorado voters want more restrictive gun laws.
Ohio has one of the lowest per capita gun ownership rates in the country and is a critical swing state. Back in 1984, Republican Governor John Kasich clobbered his Democratic opponent in the gubernatorial election 64% to 33%. Yet four years later the Republican candidate beat his Democratic opponent by a mere three percentage points. Which is why after the recent Dayton shootings, when Gov. Mike DeWine was shouted down in a dramatic scene by with voters yelling, “Do something!” My hunch is he’ll do as he’s told.
Finally, take Florida, a must-win state for the presidential race where two-thirds of the voters want stricter gun laws. In the most recent midterm election, Republican Carolos Curbelo claims to have lost his seat to the Democrat, “Because many, many Americans perceive that Republicans are unwilling to act on gun reform.”
Put another way, had Republicans passed background checks two years ago, according to Curbelo there’d be one more Republican in Congress and likely more Florida Trump voters for the upcoming 2020 election.
Donald Trump has not forgotten how he won Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan by razor-thin margins. To him, “do something” is to pass the background check legislation that is favored by 90% of his own voters and about 99.9% of everyone else. Wyoming should support him because the Republican Party cannot expect to survive into 2028 if they ignore what nearly every voter is asking for.
But if the Republican leadership fails to go along with the president, which I worry they will, gun rights advocates will soon be staring into a Congressional sea of blue, a group that won’t care one bit about what it takes for you or me to buy or own a gun.