With the U.S. Senate split 50-50, the chances of gun control legislation passing through the normal legislative process are slim at best. Unfortunately, there are a couple of legislative tricks that anti-gun Senators could use to get around the fact that 60 senators are needed to close off debate and approve bills.
In a newly released interview conducted by the Las Vegas Sun in January of 2020, then-candidate Joe Biden said he planned on using “must pass” legislation as a vehicle for his gun ban; attaching it as an amendment to a budget authorization bill, for instance.
Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, on the other hand, tells the Michael Bloomberg-funded anti-gun news outlet The Trace that he believes another parliamentary procedure could help shepherd gun control legislation through the Senate.
Senate Democrats could advance gun reform legislation via the budget reconciliation process, which allows the Senate to pass tax and spending bills with a simple majority vote. Blumenthal says Ethan’s Law has a good chance of passing that way.
Budget reconciliation has never been used to pass a gun measure before, so it would set a precedent if Democrats go this route. As [Pro. Stephen] Smith put it: “Democrats are thinking far more creatively about this process than they have in the past.”
The “Ethan’s Law” that Blumenthal referenced would require all firearms be kept under lock and key when they’re not in use or “under the control” of the gun owner. It’s one of several gun storage bills that have already been filed in Congress this session, but I think it would actually be questionable as to whether reconciliation could be used for that particular piece of legislation. As The Trace‘s Jennifer Mascia noted, reconciliation is generally used for budgetary measures, and Blumenthal’s bill doesn’t require any new government taxes or spending.
Honestly, Biden’s gun ban would be a better fit for an attempt to use reconciliation as a way to get the bill to his desk, but even then I think the vote would be close. Would Joe Manchin sign on to Biden’s gun ban? In 2012 Machin sounded supportive of the idea, telling MSNBC that he didn’t know “anyone in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle.”
In a 2018 appearance on the same network, however, Manchin was singing a slightly different tune.
“They’re sold now legally, I’m not going to weigh in on that at this point in time,” he said. “I don’t have a desire to buy one, I don’t own one. I have a lot of friends that have sports cars, 200 mph on the speedometer, do you think they’re going to go 200? But they think they can or it will if they wanted to. That is a difficult one, there is not enough votes to repeal that.”
Asked once again how he would vote on a proposal to ban AR-15s, Manchin said: “I don’t have any friends that own the gun right now, I don’t know anyone who’s committed a crime with it so I wouldn’t take their gun away.”
Manchin is no Second Amendment stalwart, but he’s a pretty decent politician who’s managed to get re-elected as a Democrat even as West Virginia has become one of the reddest states in the nation. If Manchin were the deciding vote for Biden’s gun ban, it would spell not only the end of his political career in the state but would devastate the Democrat party in West Virginia for a decade or more.
By the way, I do need to correct The Trace‘s Mascia on one part of her story:
A more formidable obstacle to gun reform is the filibuster, which allows lawmakers to delay a vote on a bill. If the filibuster were abolished, Democrats could pass gun reform with a simple majority. But not every Democrat is on board — including West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, a longtime proponent of expanding background checks. As long as the filibuster stands, Democrats need 60 votes for most legislation — 59 senators and the vice president.
That’s simply not true. The vice-president only casts a vote in her role as the President of the Senate when there’s a tie. If the vote is 59-41, Kamala Harris doesn’t get to vote on the bill. Article I, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution is clear that “the Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.”
Even with the filibuster in place, however, reconciliation and Biden’s threat to pack “must pass” legislation with his anti-gun agenda are genuine concerns for those of us opposed to sweeping infringements on our right to keep and bear arms. Second Amendment activists are going to have to be vigilant in watching Congress over the next two years, even as we work to replace the narrow anti-gun majorities in the House and Senate with politicians who recognize and respect our right to keep and bear arms.
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