I take absolutely no joy in saying this, but my job is to tell it like it is and not try to blow sunshine up anyone’s backside: the gun control bills that are expected to start moving in the House this week are almost guaranteed to be approved and sent to the U.S. Senate. H.R. 8, which would impose a one-year federal prison sentence on gun owners who transferred a firearm without first going through a background check, and H.R. 1446, which would allow the FBI to delay transfers done through an FFL for ten days (and indefinitely in some circumstances) as opposed to the three-day limit currently allowed by law, aren’t going to get out the House with wide margins, but bills only need a bare majority to pass there.
It’s the Senate where things are going to get tricky for gun control legislation, since 60 votes are going to be necessary in order for the bills to pass. Joe Manchin seems adamant that he’s not going to provide the final vote necessary to nuke the legislative filibuster, but the Left is doing its best to remind Manchin that if he doesn’t, there’s no guarantee that the universal background check bill will get to Biden’s desk.
Manchin nevertheless remains as intransigent as ever on the filibuster question in general. Asked on the Hill this past Monday about the circumstances under which he’d reconsider his support for it, he yelled “Never.” “Jesus Christ!” he said to reporters. “What don’t you understand about ‘never’?” And Manchin has already seen and made peace with Republicans in the Senate killing background check expansions twice this decade—once in 2013 and once in 2015. It should be said that these failures give lie to the idea, promoted by Manchin and others, that the filibuster facilitates bipartisanship. On both occasions, checks actually won the support of a bipartisan coalition of senators, and Manchin’s bill might have passed in 2013 with a bipartisan 54-vote majority were it not for the filibuster and its 60-vote threshold. Instead of Congress passing a policy supported by the vast majority of the American people and offered up by cooperative and cordial members of both parties, Congress passed nothing.
It is likely that this will happen again. Asked about the BCEA’s chances on CNN recently, Pat Toomey was pessimistic. “It’s theoretically possible,” he said, “but I’m not aware of a significant change in heart.” Absent that change in heart, all gun legislation will be doomed—not just background checks but the rest of the proposals for Congress that President Biden ran on, including a new assault weapons ban, a ban on online gun and parts sales, and the repeal of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which shields gun manufacturers from lawsuits over the use of their guns in criminal activity. Biden wasn’t the most ambitious of the primary candidates on gun policy, but his proposals would still be the most sweeping gun control measures implemented since Biden helped pass the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and the original Federal Assault Weapons Ban as a senator in the early 1990s.
The intra-party fight over the filibuster is already heating up, and it’s going to get even spicier in the weeks ahead. The Democrats insisting that the filibuster go away know their legislative majorities are likely going to come to an end in next year’s midterms, and if they want to enact their agenda they’re going to have to destroy it sooner or later. They’d prefer sooner, under the theory that they’d be able to pass more legislation that the country would love, and by the time Election Day rolls around in 2022 the American people will have forgiven them for blowing up one of the few remaining checks on pure majoritarianism in Congress.
The more Manchin digs in his heels, the more the anti-filibuster Democrats are going to lash out. Of course Manchin has an ace in the hole, so to speak. At any time, he could leave the Democratic Party behind and begin to caucus with Republicans, giving them the Senate Majority. That might make him an even bigger enemy to the Left than Donald Trump, but it wouldn’t hurt Manchin’s popularity at home in West Virginia, where every single county went red in the 2020 election.
I wish I could confidently predict how this will all end up, but my crystal ball is only telling me that gun owners should buckle up, because it could be a bumpy and chaotic ride once Biden’s gun control bills start moving.
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