We don’t know specifically what they’re going to look like, but we know that Joe Biden’s first executive orders on firearms coming, perhaps in just a matter of a week or two. Gun rights organizations are getting out in front of the impending attack on the right to keep and bear arms with a pledge to litigate any executive action that treads on Second Amendment territory.
Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, said his group had launched a national television ad campaign focused on Mr. Biden’s gun proposals. Of the White House efforts, he said: “Legislation is going to be a heavy lift because we will pull out all the stops. Anything he does by executive order that’s an overreach, we’ll file suit in court.”
Gottlieb’s quote is part of a larger Wall Street Journal story on Biden’s gun control agenda and the strategy to enact it. While administration sources are keeping their plans under wraps, at least one gun control activist is hinting that the early actions will likely come through executive actions and not legislation.
Gun-control supporters argue the political landscape has shifted in their favor, citing broad support from Democrats as well as public backing for some measures, like expanded background checks. Still, any legislation would likely need to win 60 votes in the Senate, which currently has a 50-50 split, and it isn’t clear if that support is there.
“I think it’s very clear that people on both sides of the aisle are all incredibly hungry for these policies,” said Christian Heyne, vice president of policy at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “I think you will have Republicans and Democrats vote for background checks. I do not know if we have 60 votes.”
Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at the think tank Third Way, worked for then-Rep. Chuck Schumer during the gun-control push in the early 1990s. He said there was a backlash over restricting access to so-called assault weapons.
“I think expanding background checks is safe. It’s also significant,” he said. But he cautioned: “I think the assault-weapons ban raises emotions in a way where the political outcome is less predictable.”
I agree that a so-called universal background check bill is the legislative agenda item that’s the most likely candidate to move in Congress, at least at the moment. Gun control activists point to the measure’s popularity in public polling, which emboldens anti-gun politicians, though they ignore the fact that support for the issue tends to drop the more voters have the opportunity to study the issue. In 2016, for example, a background check referendum in Maine failed to get 50% approval in 2016, despite gun control activists like Michael Bloomberg pouring millions of dollars into the campaign to pass the measure.
Nationally, the expansion of background checks polls well, often above 80 percent. But a Yale University study earlier this year attributed some of that to misinformation, saying that more than two-fifths of Americans think universal background checks are already the law.
When we’re actually able to explain that a background check bill covering the private transfers of firearms could criminalize selling a gun to a long-time neighbor, or loaning a gun to a friend for hunting, recreation, or even self-defense could turn legal gun owners into criminals, support tends to plunge. I’m sure that Maryland’s new law requiring background checks on the private transfers of rifles and shotguns will poll well, for example, but if voters understood that a violation of the background check law could result in a ten-year prison sentence while stealing a gun in Maryland carries a maximum six-month jail term, they might feel a little different about the law’s utility and value.
As gun owners, we can’t expect the anti-gun media or gun-banning politicians to do our job for us. It’s up the 2A community to explain to our non-gun-owning friends and family how the current background check system works and how unworkable and unreasonable a federal background check requirement for private transfers would be. Perhaps even more importantly, we need to be talking to our representatives in Congress about the same thing. Universal background checks are more popular when Americans are ignorant about the details of the proposal, so educating our fellow citizens about the unintended consequences and the hidden dangers buried in the legalese of the legislation.
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