Is Wyoming Senator John Barrasso denying reality or expressing it? The third-highest ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate expressed his belief that gun control bills are in for a tough time in the Senate chamber while speaking to reporters on Friday.
Sen. John Barrasso said Friday that he had concerns about “red flag” laws and voiced skepticism that Republicans would support expanded background checks during gun sales.
“I want to make sure we protect our constitutional rights and whatever comes up will actually help solve a problem,” Barrasso, the No. 3 Senate Republican, told reporters. “I have a lot of concerns about the due process component of [red flag laws] and I don’t want to punish law-abiding citizens.”
As for bipartisan background checks legislation, which he previously voted against and has repeatedly fallen short in the Senate, the Wyoming senator said, “I don’t expect things have changed much.”
After a week in which gun owners saw President Trump, Marco Rubio, and Lindsey Graham (among other Republicans) push “red flag” laws, universal background checks, and more, Barrasso’s comments might provide some comfort to 2nd Amendment supporters.
But is Barrasso right when he says he doesn’t think things have changed much in the U.S. Senate? Next year is an election year, and it’s become crystal clear over the past five days that at least some of the politicians who are now cautiously supporting gun control measures are doing so out of political expediency. They’re being told that embracing the 2nd Amendment is toxic to suburban voters, and that the suburbs will be the key to holding on to their seats next year.
There are 20 Republican senators up for re-election next year (and two open seats currently held by Republicans), but only a handful of them are in battleground states. Maine’s Susan Collins, North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, and Colorado’s Cory Gardner are probably the biggest targets for Democrats, but there are electoral dangers from embracing gun control in each of those states. Maine is a staunchly pro-gun state that rejected “universal background checks” via referendum in 2016, and even the state’s Democrat governor has been reluctant to push gun control measures. North Carolina and Colorado have been trending purple in recent elections, but both states also are home to large numbers of gun owners, and thanks to the number of gun control laws that have been passed in Colorado in recent years, gun owners are an important part of Gardner’s base that he can’t afford to alienate.
South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham is up for re-election next year and is working with Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal on a background check bill, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who’s also up for re-election in 2020, has said that the gun control debate will be “front and center” when the Senate goes back in session in September. Graham also recently talked about owning an AR-15 for self-defense, and McConnell hasn’t voiced any personal support for any of the proposed gun control measures likely to be debated next month, so I don’t think either one of them will be getting the endorsement of Moms Demand Action or Everytown for Gun Safety next year.
Senator Barrasso may be right that not much has changed as far as support for the 2nd Amendment in the Senate goes. Gun owners and 2nd Amendment supporters can help ensure that’s the case by contacting their senators and letting them know continued defense of the right to keep and bear arms is important to their constituents. And if we start to see red-state stalwarts like John Cornyn or Tom Cotton come out in support of gun control laws, we’ll know that Senator Barrasso is incorrect, and a great deal has changed on Capitol Hill.