The blood hasn’t even been washed off the streets of Las Vegas yet and, as expected, control activists are already calling for radical new limitations on civilian firearm ownership. Hillary Clinton has been tweeting this morning stating that America needs to “stand up” to the NRA, and countless others are following suit. While the outcry might be deafening right now, how concerned should normal, law-abiding gun owners be that their rights are about to be infringed with the enactment of knee-jerk legislation?
Federal Gun Laws
On the national level things seem to be pretty stable, even given this latest event.
The Sandy Hook shooting took place in December of 2012. It was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history until that point, and in its wake we saw the biggest push for gun control since Columbine. Not only had a horrific, nationally publicized event shocked people into action, but democrats were in solid control of the federal government.
They had the political capital to spend, and an issue like gun control would have been a slam dunk for rallying their base supporters. Naturally proposals from all of the usual suspects flooded into Congress.
The piece of legislation that drew the most concern from gun owners was a proposed new assault weapons ban from Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), which was introduced a mere four days after the Newtown shooting. Consistent with her earlier efforts, her bill would have banned weapons that looked scary instead of weapons that were functionally more deadly, notably banning all semi-automatic shotguns with a pistol grip but explicitly exempting those with camouflage paint jobs.
As it had before, the assault weapon ban bill failed before it even made it out of committee.
While an AWB probably never had a chance, the Toomey-Manchin universal background check bill seemed to actually have a shot at passing the Senate and moving on to the House. There was an open question as to how many Republicans might flip sides in the House to support it. Senate Democrats thought the vote would be close enough that they sent Vice President Joe Biden to chair the proceedings in case a tie-breaking vote was needed.
Yet with as much support as any federal gun control bill could be expected to have — a Democrat in the White House pushing for the bill, a Democrat majority in the House, a national tragedy still fresh in people’s minds, and Joe Biden glaring at the Senators — Toomey-Manchin failed, too.
Four years later a shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando once again seemed like the perfect opportunity to try again. Another high profile shooting that Democrats — this time targeting men in a gay nightclub — could use to push their civilian disarmament agenda.
But the political tides had changed. Republicans had gained majorities in both House and Senate, so there was virtually no way any gun control legislation would ever get to a vote in either chamber. The most significant post-Pulse legislative event was a sit-in on the House floor organized by the Democrats to protest their lack of progress on gun control proposals.
These days the pendulum has swung still farther. Republicans now control both Congress and the White House (with some high profile help from the NRA), and the Supreme Court appears more gun friendly than ever. The probability that anything even remotely infringing on Second Amendment freedoms will pass this session is remote at best.
That said, the impact after Mandalay Bay may be significant. Democrats have been painting President Trump as Emmannuel Goldstein since November, with every MSNBC segment and Huffington Post article serving Two Minutes Hate. No doubt the failure to enact new gun control measures after more than 50 people are murdered and over 500 wounded will fuel their rage even further.
In the long term this could encourage more of the Democratic base to show up for future elections, possibly resulting in the pendulum swinging back towards a more Democrat-controlled House and possibly even the Senate. Should that happen the the introduction of new gun control legislation is virtually certain.
More immediately, the only likely impact on the federal level is the dashing of any hopes of passage of the SHARE Act, which would have reduced restrictions on silencers among other beneficial changes. Remember that a hearing on the HPA was due to be held the day after the Congressional Baseball shooting in June, but was postponed as a result.
In the wake of an event like Mandalay Bay, Republicans might fear that attaching their name to silencer law reform a would be used against them in the next election. It looks like the Hearing Protection Act may be breathing its last breaths, and the hope for anything ostensibly pro-gun coming out of this Congress may have evaporated last night.
State Gun Laws
The story is very different on the state level.
Just as after Sandy Hook, states with solid Democrat majorities may feel emboldened to enact new gun restrictions on their own. Newtown provided cover for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to ram the SAFE Act through in the dead of night. Other states like Washington, Connecticut, California, and Maryland also implemented new, more restrictive gun laws — universal background checks, magazine limits, gun violence restraining orders — in recent years.
The most likely state to change their laws in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre is Nevada. While Governor Brian Sandoval is a Republican, the Nevada legislature is solidly controlled by Democrats. Gun control proposals generated in the kind of environment that will surely prevail in the coming weeks will have an increased chance of success, possibly even over a gubernatorial veto.
Expect bills for items like an assault weapon ban and a ban on firearms in hotels, especially those with casinos. The ban on firearms in hotels would seem to have the better prospects for passage, but the impact to tourism might be too much for even Democrats to stomach. Tens of millions of dollars of revenue come into the city thanks to events like the NSSF’s SHOT Show and other weapons-related trade meetings and shows. Banning firearms would almost certainly trigger those who run such events to look elsewhere.
Other states that are in danger of passing anti-gun legislation? The usual suspects: California, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. What form any new laws take remains to be seen, but I’d be surprised if those states passed up the opportunity to enact more still more gun control restrictions with such a widely publicized tragedy dominating cable news 24/7 for the next few weeks.
In short, while federal legislation as a result of the Las Vegas shooting doesn’t seem likely, it may fuel on the fire of the Democrats’ rage that could propels them to midterm victory. As always, watch this space.