Media Wonders: Can Gun Control Turn Texas Blue?

Short answer? No. But you’re not a VIP member of Bearing Arms for the short answer, so let me give you a longer version that includes my reasoning as well.

First, let’s start with the argument by gun control advocates. As Time reports, anti-gun groups like Everytown for Gun Safety believe they found a winning strategy when the Virginia state house flipped to Democratic control for the first time in 26 years in 2019. Bloomberg and his gun control groups spent big targeting several suburban swing districts, and several incumbents were swept out of office as Democrats picked up a half-dozen seats in the Assembly as well as a few state Senate districts as well. Now they’re taking the same strategy of targeting suburban swing districts to Texas, and they think they can pull off the same upset.

Of all the state legislative races, Everytown plans on spending the most in Texas. The group will be allocating at least $2.5 million to flipping the state House to what they call a “gun sense” majority, investing in digital advertising, direct mail and television ads on the issue of gun safety.

“Texas is something of a microcosm [for] the politics of guns in the rest of the country,” says James Henson, a lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin and the director of the Texas Politics Project.

Until a few years ago, most of the organizing around gun laws in the state supported loosening restrictions, he says. But after several mass shootings—including 2017’s Sutherland Springs shooting that killed 26, 2018’s Santa Fe shooting that killed 10 and 2019’s El Paso shooting that killed 23—gun control groups have become much more active and “changed the terrain to some degree,” Henson continues.

Support for gun control inevitably increases after a mass shooting like the one in El Paso in August of 2019, but as a recent Rasmussen survey showed, the record level of support has declined dramatically over the past year, from 64% in August of 2019 to 52% today. In Texas, support has likely dropped below 50% thanks to the increased unrest in places like Portland, Seattle, and even Austin.

Texas had more than 58,000 background checks for concealed carry licenses in July of this year, which is a record for the state. There’ve ben strong gun sales reported every month since July as well, and as we reported yesterday, a new YouGov poll released this week found that of all Texas politicians, Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke is the least liked by voters. When the face of gun control in Texas is also the most disliked politician, that’s not a good sign for the movement.

Still, Everytown doesn’t have to flip every seat. In fact, to take control of one half of the state legislature, they’re looking at less than ten districts across the state.

To take the Texas House, Democrats need to flip nine seats. “It’s not going to be enough to simply overwhelm Republicans by mobilizing the Democratic base,” says Mark P. Jones, a fellow in political science at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. “They’re going to have to convince a subset of voters who normally vote Republican to vote Democratic this time around.”

That’s not out of the question, Jones says, especially in the suburbs of Dallas and Houston, where the battle over the state House is primarily playing out. “It all depends on exactly how they pitch [gun control]—as responsible but not anti-Second Amendment rights,” he continues. In terms of specific gun reforms, Jones says Republican-leaning voters tend to most commonly support universal background checks and stricter restrictions on assault rifles.

I talked about this on today’s episode of War for the White House with Senior Editor Matt Vespa and PJ Media’s Deputy Managing Editor Bryan Preston, who actually lives in Texas. Preston says the possibility that Democrats take control of the state House is real, and though he believes that Donald Trump will win the state in November, he’s concerned about the Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio suburbs trending bluer.

I think it really comes down to what the big public safety issue is two months from now. If riots, civil unrest, and violent crime are still increasing or at unusually high levels, gun control isn’t going to be nearly the winning issue that Everytown and other anti-gun advocates hope that it will. For many voters, support for gun control is both conditional and emotional, and it increases when we see these rare yet horrific attacks like the shootings at the Walmart in El Paso last August. The wall-to-wall media coverage of the crime itself is inevitably coupled with demands for more gun control laws, and a certain segment of the American population is swayed.

What they’re seeing on their television sets and smartphones right now, however, is making them less inclined to support more gun control laws. There’s chaos broadcast nationwide every evening, and with police in cities like New York and Chicago retiring in record numbers and law enforcement budgets being cut as many Democrats turn on the very idea of policing itself, more Americans are starting to realize they need to be able to protect themselves.

As long as that unrest and violence is still on the minds of voters as ballots start getting cast, I think the gun control message isn’t going to be a winning one in Texas this year. In fact, as I pointed out earlier today, there’s plenty of evidence that Democrats know it’s not exactly a winning message in Virginia this election cycle either, and I believe the more Joe Biden and Kamala Harris talk about their gun ban plans, the less popular they’ll become.