By Michael Hout, Chairman
I’ve never been a fan of the term “gun control” when used to describe legislative or other political efforts to reduce gun violence, something from which our nation’s citizens suffer disproportionately when compared to their global counterparts. It is yet another example of the right winning the war of the words, as seen in so many other areas of American politics (e.g. abortion, where conservatives are, generally, “pro-life”, or many social issues, where the far left opts for highly divisive or elitist verbiage, oftentimes unnecessarily). While language may often be on their side, the moral high ground, certainly in this case, is often with their opposition. Gun violence is a tremendous problem in America. If, however, Republicans can turn a new page and begin making amends for their past history of ignoring the issue entirely, they can use this opportunity – their first unified Republican government since the Coolidge Administration, according to Ann Coulter (not true) – to address gun violence on their own terms. They should act to implement a form of “gun control” that addresses some of our legal and criminal justice system’s most obvious flaws while still maintaining the constitutional and civil liberties they so passionately defend (whatever the motivation may be).
It is fair to say that on most issues, including gun violence prevention, America is very much divided in a way that is not all that different from the political division that permeates our government. Much of the issue, however, lies with the catch-all term known as “gun control,” as there are a multitude of individual policy issues that fall under this category. On some, the nation truly is divided – gun ownership itself is fairly split, with a reasonable advantage for those not in possession of these weapons as of the latest Gallup polling, and certain issues, depending on phrasing and context such as with the recent “No Fly, No Buy” effort, elicit more complex reactions. On the most pressing matters at hand, however, including universal background checks, which eighty-six percent of Americans favor, and on all gun purchases, using a centralized, fifty-state database, there is little debate left to occur. Americans clearly favor measures like these, as well as other common sense, gun violence prevention initiatives. Consider this for a moment, knowing that in 2015, a mere seventeen percent of Americans said they do not consider guns a major issue in their voting decisions. If Republicans are out of touch with the average individual on this issue, they will not be able to continue to defend their seats as more tragedies inevitably come to pass. Republicans must return to common sense where gun violence is concerned, working with Democrats to secure bipartisan support just as their predecessors did with the Gun Control Act of 1968. The public will become more demanding of answers by the day as more and more become victims and survivors of a domestic war that seemingly knows no end.
Quite naturally, you may wonder how I may make this criticism with the shellacking Democrats just took. It is true Republicans were able to overcome their shortcomings on this issue, but that is by no means indicative of the potential this issue has to make or break campaigns. Organizations such as Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence become stronger and stronger with each preventable tragedy and the subsequent failure of those in office tasked with doing so to protect them from such acts. It is of course also important to consider the extraordinary nature of this election – one in which personality, quite literally, trumped policy. Those on the right should also notice that Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), who co-sponsored the unsuccessful Manchin-Toomey background check amendment years ago with Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), won his election against a tough Democratic opponent in Katie McGinty rather surprisingly, as compared to colleagues such as Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH).
It is also interesting to recognize the incongruity that Republicans face with this issue as it contrasts with their traditional law and order-heavy platform. The lack of appropriate, or even basic “gun control” measures means the police officers they so vehemently (and rightly) defend have to work that much harder and are that much more likely to be killed in the line of duty. Ask most members of law enforcement if gun violence prevention laws are adequate and you probably will not receive a resounding “yes.” On a related note, there is the oft-touted critique of liberal bastions such as Chicago, where gun laws are lathered on thick yet gun violence manages to thrive. How is this so? Well, Chicago is indeed a liberal city in a liberal state, but it is situated on Lake Michigan and just a short drive from states that have far more relaxed laws (as well as some counties and municipalities within Illinois), such as the Vice President-elect’s home state of Indiana. Seeing as no interstate border checkpoints exist (which could prevent an individual from simply driving across the border of their state with stricter laws into a state with more relaxed ones and then returning), national laws are really the only answer to this problem – and denying that will not help the dozens who are gunned down each day, nor, I would contend, will it help the long-term viability of the Republican Party following the (worldwide) populist wave of which we are currently in the midst.
To conclude, Republicans have at least two, and likely four years to run Washington on their own terms and to determine much of the country’s foreseeable future in many areas. Desiring not to be killed – whether it is in the street and at the hands of a member of law enforcement, or in a theater or church and at the hands of a disturbed civilian – should not be a source of partisan bickering. It is my hope that conservatives will see past the monetary considerations that must be a source of this inconsistent positioning (see: NRA), and that they will realize that their fundamental ideology need not be manipulated wildly to arrive at common sense solutions. Republicans are no more obligated to reject the background checks that nearly all of America (including gun owners!) supports than Democrats are. If they truly care about law and order, the safety of the American people from threats of terrorism both domestically and foreign-sourced, and the reputation of America abroad, they will use this opportunity – one which by most estimations they will not have again for at least a reasonable amount of time – to supplant their misguided past stances on this issue and become champions for the basic gun violence prevention efforts they have denounced for far too long. The Republican return to common sense, where this issue is concerned, is long overdue.