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A Bitterly Divided Congress

Monday, November 19, 2018

For gun owners, the 115th Congress will go down in history as a time of extreme partisan rancor and discord. Gun control was once again at the top of Congressional Democrats’ agenda, and bitter confirmation and election battles hardened attitudes throughout our Nation’s Capital.

As I write this much remains unsettled about the political landscape we will face in the coming two years. But this much is certain: more intense battles over the Second Amendment are in front of us.

Perhaps one of the most significant will concern the presidency itself. Democrat activists and mega-donors – most notably billionaire hedge fund manager Tom Steyer – are publicly calling for President Trump’s impeachment.

Needless to say, they do not have any legitimate grounds for this demand. But there are well-funded efforts entirely dedicated to digging into the history of the president and his associates, hoping to find any pretext to try and remove him from office.

And the army of anti-Trump “resistance” figures in the media will gladly amplify, or distort, any unflattering narrative to generate momentum for that cause.

While the actual removal of our duly-elected president is unlikely, these efforts will continue to distract the public from the very real and very significant accomplishments of the Trump administration and continue to energize his opponents.

Autumn of 2018 will be remembered for what has been to date the ugliest Supreme Court confirmation battle in U.S. history. It is possible that more vacancies will arise during President Trump’s tenure in the White House. Those coming confirmation proceedings are likely to be just as contentious, if not worse.

Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was considered a natural choice to succeed Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, for whom Kavanaugh once clerked on the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Kennedy was appointed by President Ronald Reagan and considered a moderate (although that alone meant he was out of step with today’s increasingly activist judiciary). Kavanaugh’s intellect, jurisprudential credentials, and fundamental fairness on the bench were widely hailed by legal experts and scholars across the political spectrum. In addition, his support for the original meaning of the Second Amendment earned him our strong support.

It was only when his confirmation vote was imminent – after weeks of the most thorough vetting that any Supreme Court nominee had ever received from both the Senate Judiciary Committee and a reflexively hostile media – that a massive character assassination campaign began in earnest. A series of increasingly outlandish accusations were leveled against Judge Kavanaugh, a man who has spent three decades in high-profile public service and had successfully undergone six FBI background investigations with no questions having ever arisen about his character.

These vague and unsubstantiated allegations succeeded in repeatedly delaying a final confirmation vote and dragged a good and well-respected member of the federal judiciary through the mud. When the Supreme Court’s new term began in October, Justice Kennedy’s replacement was still not seated, leaving no tie-breaking vote between the court’s evenly-divided conservative and liberal blocs.

Fortunately, the White House and the Republican majority in the Senate saw past the super-heated rhetoric and theatrics and resolutely stayed the course, steering Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to a final successful vote.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in particular deserve credit for their determined leadership.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) also served as a crucial voice for reason and due process, outlining in a pivotal speech the reasons why the accusers had not made their case and underscoring the necessity of fundamental fairness and the presumption of innocence. And we all witnessed Sen. Lindsay Graham’s (R-SC) impassioned speech on Kavanaugh’s behalf.

If things could get that heated over the replacement of one moderate justice with an accomplished and fair-minded successor, it is hard to imagine what it would look like if Trump were to nominate the replacement for one of the court’s avowedly liberal justices. President Trump’s political enemies waged total war against Judge Kavanaugh. They will likely try to do the same or worse against any other Supreme Court nominees Trump gets to name during his tenure.

The outlook for future firearm-related legislation is similarly belligerent and partisan.

Many Congressional Democrats who once supported Second Amendment rights have abandoned their own constituents to tack sharply left in order to endear themselves to big money donors and party elites. Others consider anti-gun extremism a necessity to survive what looks likely to be a crowded primary field for the 2020 Democrat presidential nomination. Egged on by youthful gun control activists who rose to national prominence after the Parkland, Florida tragedy in February 2018, gun control advocates have become increasingly ambitious and impatient to enact sweeping prohibitory measures.

For most of Barack Obama’s second term, the various players in the “mainstream” gun control movement had grudgingly coalesced around the idea of “universal” background checks as a panacea against violent crime. The idea never made much sense, given the off-paper means by which most violent criminals obtain the firearms they use to victimize others, as well as the apathy of the Obama Justice Department toward prosecuting those who violate current background check laws. But the idea resonated in polls and focus groups and at least superficially seemed “moderate” to many who are not steeped in the details of gun control politics.

After Parkland, however, they became more extreme and more honest about their true goals. Today, broad bans on firearms and groups of law-abiding people are the new baseline standard, along with punitive taxation and “safety” requirements that effectively ban modern pistols.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), for example, once understood just how extreme a proposition it is to ban firearms like the ubiquitous AR-15, known by pro- and anti-gun forces alike as “America’s Rifle.” As recently as 2013, he voted against a broad ban on semi-automatic firearms, even as he also voted to expand the scope of federally required firearm background checks. Now, Warner is co-sponsoring one of the most expansive bans on semi-automatic firearms and magazines ever introduced in Congress. Bet on that bill to be reintroduced in the 116th Congress.

And it’s not just the hardware protected by the Second Amendment that’s at risk. Millions of Americans who have never been convicted or even accused of a crime could lose their right to keep and bear arms under additional legislation that will almost certainly be reprised in the upcoming Congress.

One such bill would categorically prohibit young adults of prime military age from acquiring their own firearms. And you can safely bet that if young adults aged 18 to 20 were deemed too unsafe to be trusted with firearms, it would only be a matter of time before similar measures would target the elderly as well. Gun control advocates are already floating the idea in journal articles and newspaper stories that age-related changes in cognition make firearm ownership among seniors especially dangerous.

But outright bans are not the only way to keep people from exercising their rights. A bill that would impose punitive “sin” taxes on firearms and ammunition has been introduced in Congress and others have actually passed in local jurisdictions in Illinois and Washington State.

Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-IL), who sponsored the federal tax bill, wasn’t shy about explaining its goals. In an interview, Davis had this to say in response to criticism that his bill would disproportionately impact the rights of the poor and reduce their access to constitutionally protected firearms and ammunition:

Well, I’d be just as pleased if neither group [i.e., poor and non-poor] were able to get them. So what I’m saying is it doesn’t pose an issue for me because I would like to outlaw them altogether. I’m saying, I’d like to make it to where nobody except military personnel would EVER have access to these weapons.

State courts in Illinois and Washington apparently agree and have upheld the discriminatory taxation measures passed in those states.

 

Indeed, the worst thinking on gun control often originates in the states and localities, with some ideas finding their way into the national debate. California is leading this charge with state-mandated design requirements (like “microstamping”) that effectively ban the sale of semiautomatic pistols developed after the law took effect in 2013. Ammunition is also in the crosshairs, with a ban on mail order sales and the phase-in of background check and record-keeping requirements.

 

Of course, the NRA will never stop pushing to gain ground as well. Pro-gun reforms including national right-to-carry, the Hearing Protection Act, and the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act will remain at the top of our proactive agenda.

 

However the state of play looks after the November elections, we can count on more difficult battles in the upcoming two years. That’s why it will be more important than ever that NRA members work together to stop these egregious restrictions and pass laws that expand our firearms freedom.

 

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.