Why Democrats Are Backing Away From Assault Weapon Ban

The Democratic debate last night was filled with all kinds of calls for assault weapon bans, gun confiscation plans, and a whole lot of other nonsense. It’s not surprising. After all, it’s the Democratic debate. Candidates aren’t trying to woo the general public, just a base that seems to be leaning further and further left on more and more issues.

Especially guns.

However, despite that and despite the fact that the Trump administration seems to be open to at least some degree of gun control, House Democrats seem to be backing off on their push for an assault weapon ban.

As Democrats make an aggressive push for new gun control legislation, they have made a calculated decision to stop short of pursuing their most ambitious goal: an assault weapons ban.

The overwhelming majority of House Democrats — 211, seven shy of the 218 needed for passage — are co-sponsoring legislation to ban military-style semiautomatic weapons, similar to the ban in effect from 1994 to 2004. But some centrist Democrats remain skittish about any proposal that keeps firearms from law-abiding citizens — a frequent charge against Democrats by Republicans and gun rights groups — making any such ban politically risky for moderates in Trump-friendly districts. In the Senate, it draws less support.

The split reveals just how complicated gun politics remain inside the Democratic Party, even as mass shootings are terrorizing the nation and the Twitter hashtag #DoSomething has captured the mounting public demands for Congress to act.

While the candidates are screaming for an assault weapon ban, many lawmakers are remaining silent on the issue. Sen. Chuck Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have been relatively quiet on the issue. Even Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a noted anti-gunner with a long history of pushing for gun control has remained fairly silent on a new assault weapon ban, despite having pushed her own in the past.


Part of the reason why is expressed quite clearly by the very man who wrote the latest iteration of the assault weapon ban:

“Let’s be honest,” said Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island, the sponsor of the current assault weapons measure, who described himself as a “huge proponent” of the ban. “Every other bill that we’ve done tries to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. This is the one piece of legislation that keeps a particular weapon out of the hands of law-abiding citizens. A lot of people have enormous objections to that.”

That’s a big part of the issue, to be sure. The fact that Cicilline actually acknowledges this is surprising, if I’m quite honest. Most of the time, even on a ban like this, a lawmaker will try to spin it so it’s all about bad actors misusing firearms. That’s an easier sell for the American people than “we don’t trust you with these weapons,” which is what Cicilline’s bill basically does.

You see, support for universal background checks is high because many people fail to see how that infringing on the right to keep and bear arms. After all, don’t we already have background checks when we buy guns?

In their minds, this is a small issue that really doesn’t infringe on anyone’s rights–again, this is in the minds of many people–so there’s no problem.

Assault weapon bans are different. This means they can’t buy a certain class of gun, one they can pick up in any gun store in America right now. That’s a problem for Joe Sixpack, despite him never having bought a gun before. While polling shows support for an assault weapon ban to be over 50 percent–the above-lined article notes it at 56 percent–most of those favoring such a ban live in larger urban centers. Their support is highly concentrated in a few areas that have always favored gun control anyway.

But in more rural areas, they feel a bit differently and they’re unlikely to support representatives who infringe on that right. Those lawmakers can support universal background checks without issue back home, at least for now. (Things will likely be different after such a law is implemented.) An assault weapon ban is a different matter entirely.

So despite candidates and their bluster, our AR-15s and AK-47s and FALs and whatnot are all safe and sound.

For now.

Jun 25, 2022 12:30 PM ET