Democrats Want "Assault Weapons" Bans, So Why Aren't Blue States Aren't Passing Them?

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

You don’t have to look too hard to find the Left freaking out about a federal judge’s opinion striking down California’s ban on so-called assault weapons. The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman is accusing the judge (and others) of aiding revolutionaries, while his colleague Ruth Marcus declares that Judge Roger Benitez isn’t fit to serve after deciding that the most popular rifle in the United States is protected by the Second Amendment.

Gun control activists are targeting the judge and defending California’s ban as a “commonsense gun safety measure” designed to save lives, and Benitez’s decision has led to calls from gun control advocates for Congress to impose its own gun ban at the federal level.

All of this begs the question; why have no Democrat-controlled legislatures approved a ban on so-called assault weapons this year? Obviously there aren’t 60-votes for such a ban in the Senate, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hasn’t brought up a semi-auto ban, even though one’s sitting in the House right now. Why not try to pressure Republicans by passing a gun ban and delivering it to the Senate?

Similarly, states controlled by Democrats have decided to take a pass on banning AR-15s and other semi-automatic rifles this year. In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam vowed to bring his gun ban bill back after it was defeated last year, but before this year’s legislative session began he changed his mind. So did the bill’s original sponsor, who said he preferred to focus on “less divisive” legislation this year (which by coincidence is also an election year in Virginia).

In Rhode Island, the NRA “A”-rated House Speaker was replaced by an ardent supporter of gun control legislation, raising hopes and expectations among anti-gun activists in the state that the Democrat-controlled legislature would finally crack down on legal gun owners. With just a month left in the legislative session, however, it looks like those Democrats are aiming to pass far more modest gun control initiatives while leaving a gun ban alone.

At this point, it appears the two bills with the best chance of passage this year are those that ban straw purchases of guns and require the locked storage of firearms when they are not in use, a requirement recommended by a Rhode Island gun-safety task force in 2018.

But this year’s gun-control drive includes the annual push to ban “military-style assault weapons,”  feeding devices capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition and the concealed carry of firearms on school grounds.

The proposed limit on high-capacity magazines is co-sponsored by more than half the House.

It’s one thing for Democrats to sponsor a piece of gun control legislation. It’s something else entirely for House and Senate leadership to make gun control legislation a priority, and at this point in the Rhode Island session, it doesn’t look like an “assault weapons” ban is something that Democrats are eager to bring forward.

Even in Colorado, where a mass shooting in Boulder earlier this year emboldened Democrats in charge of the state legislature to pass another round of gun control legislation, a gun ban was missing from the anti-gun package of bills.

Democratic state lawmakers have passed three gun measures that will allow localities to regulate firearms, expand background check requirements for firearm transfers, and create an “Office of Gun Violence Prevention” — sending all three bills to the desk of Colorado Democratic Gov. Jared Polis.
The measures are part of Democrats’ push for stricter gun laws to respond to a surge in gun violence in the  US and in the wake of more than 200 mass shootings so far this year alone. Colorado Democrats introduced the trio of bills in late April while continuing to call for federal action.
On Monday, the Colorado state House gave final passage to a bill that would require licensed gun dealers to get approval from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation that a background check is complete before transferring a firearm.
Now, none of these measures are good, and the attack on firearms preemption laws will undoubtably lead to reliably blue locales like Boulder imposing “assault weapons” bans of their own, but it’s still worth noting that Colorado Democrats didn’t try to impose a state-wide ban on semi-automatic rifles this year.
Why is that? Are these Democrats beholden to the “gun lobby”? Are they secretly in the back pocket of the NRA? Of course not. The reason why blue states like Colorado, Oregon, and Rhode Island are shying away from going all in on a gun ban is simple political expediency. Despite the claims by gun control activists that Americans are eager to embrace a ban on the most popular rifle in the United States (one that’s owned by more than 20-million voters), Democrats have seen the same polls that you and I have that show a decline in support for new gun control laws. They’ve seen the reports of a surge in gun ownership among Black, Hispanic, and Asian Americans; all groups that tend to support Democrats more than Republicans. They may even be worried about the reaction from groups on the far Left that want to defund or abolish police, given the fact that any gun ban is going to lead to more minorities being put in prison for non-violent crimes.
If Democrats really believed that they could pass an “assault weapons” ban, even at the state level, without suffering political consequences, they would have gone full steam ahead in Oregon, Illinois, Rhode Island, Virginia, and other states where they control the levers of government. Instead, most of the legislatures in these states have already adjourned without either chamber approving or seriously discussing a gun ban. It’s not that these anti-gun politicians have suddenly lost their desire to ban so-called assault weapons, but instead that they’ve gained awareness that any ban imposed right now would come with a high political cost.