“Imagine how different it would be, had that same exemption been available to tobacco companies, who knew and lied about the danger they were causing,” Biden said. “Imagine where we’d be.”
Biden went on to say that if he were granted only one wish on changing gun policy, it would be to end that legislative prohibition on suing gun manufacturers. “Give me that one,” he said. “Because I’ll tell you what—there would be a come-to-the-Lord moment these folks would have real quickly.”
Biden is right. As progressive activist and former gun control advocate Joe Sudbay regularly points out, gun manufacturers get two free passes that no other industry enjoys: 1) guns are the only consumer product designed to kill while also being specifically exempted from regulation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission; 2) gun manufacturers get blanket immunity from liability, even if a manufacturing defect leads to accidental deaths, for instance.
For anyone who cares about gun violence and curbing the proliferation of guns in this country, the politics of gun control have been maddening for many years. The dependence of Republican lawmakers on campaign donations from the gun lobby—and the National Rifle Association, in particular—have snarled federal gun safety legislation for the better part of two decades. Even with the NRA’s recent implosion and financial trouble, GOP lawmakers seem to have cast their lot with the increasing minority of Americans who believe their Second Amendment rights supersede the importance of saving innocent lives. Frankly, it is just one of a host of issues on which the Republican Party has wed itself to advocating for a cultural minority of the country.
Senate Republicans stand in the way of any progress due to their insistence on filibustering any and all Democratic bills, gun safety bills included. This session, two House-passed gun control bills already await Senate action. And while it’s questionable whether either of those bills could pass the Senate with a simple majority, certain measures likely could attract several GOP votes for final passage if the filibuster were reformed.
Enhancing background checks, for instance, is wildly popular. Requiring background checks on all gun sales has polled at roughly 90% for years now (sometimes a little below, sometimes a little above). And indeed, the bipartisan Manchin-Toomey bill that failed to clear the Senate in 2013 garnered the bipartisan support of 55 senators. (Majority Leader Harry Reid changed his final vote to preserve his ability to bring up the measure again.)
So, but for the filibuster, enacting certain gun reforms would likely be possible. And while that is absolutely a frustrating reality, it is also makes gun control issues anything but exceptional in this political moment. It’s not lack of support or Democrats hiding from the issue as they once did. It’s GOP obstructionism and abuse of the filibuster.
Perhaps the most encouraging development on gun control is the fact that the politics of the issue have clearly changed. If you look at the Civiqs tracking poll below, you’ll note a predictable pattern of support for gun reforms spiking in the wake of horrific mass shootings and then dropping off again. But here’s what has changed for the better: If you look back to the Charleston church massacre in the summer 2015, prior to that event, opposition to gun control reforms was running roughly even with support. Ever since then, support has typically run at least a handful of points or more ahead of opposition.
Also, if you’re specifically courting women voters, their support for stricter gun laws has hovered around 60% or more ever since the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, in 2016.
House Democrats—who will be fighting tooth and nail to keep their majority in 2022—have also clearly concluded passing stricter gun laws is a political winner. Otherwise, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi never would have called a vote on two bills that both expand background checks and lengthen the window for completing them. Even members like Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, who hails from Virginia’s swingy 7th District, are emphasizing their support gun reforms.
“The American people expect action,” she wrote in a tweet on March 31. “We are asking the Senate to act and vote on H.R. 8 and H.R. 1446 … The Senate must bring them for a vote.”
In other words, the issue is helping Democratic members who know they will be in for a tough fight next year.
As Biden announced his new executive actions Thursday, he said, “This is just a start. We have a lot of work to do.”
For now, enacting stricter gun laws is like every other Democratic issue: held hostage by a GOP Senate minority that has weaponized the filibuster. That means tightening the nation’s gun laws will rise and fall with the fate of every other Democratic priority this congressional session. Eventually, something will have to give.