What Does the 2018 Midterm Result Mean for Gun Owners?
Going into the 2018 midterms, the Republican Party – traditionally the go-to group for gun owners – had solid control over the House, the Senate, and, of course, the Presidency. This control did not, however, translate into positive action on many of the issues gun owners care about and wanted to move forward in legislative form.
Probably the top two issues for gun owners over the last few years are a national concealed carry reciprocity bill and the “Hearing Protection Act,” which would have removed silencers from the NFA registry. While there was a lot of blue state opposition to national concealed carry reciprocity, the Hearing Protection Act was something that should have received more bipartisan support than it did.
As it turned out, removing suppressors from the NFA registry was something that didn’t even have Republican support. House Speaker Paul Ryan did nothing to allow the bill to come to a vote. The concealed carry reciprocity bill did pass in the House, but no action was taken in the Senate.
After two years of Republican control of every necessary branch, essentially no pro-gun action has been taken in a legislative sense. President Trump did roll back an eleventh-hour regulation by outgoing President Obama which would have negatively affected a small number of people who receive assistance with their Social Security benefits. Other than that, nothing has come from the GOP to expand gun rights. Now, to be fair, we didn’t see any gun control measures pass in that same time, but a maintenance of the status quo was hardly what pro-gun voters expected from the Trump administration on the legislative side of things.
Enter the 2018 midterm elections.
How Did The Election Numbers Shake Out?
The Republicans lost 37 seats in the House of Representatives; this is hardly the “shellacking” the Democrats received in 2010, when the Republicans gained 63 seats, but it was a solid loss for the GOP. The Democrats now have a 232-199 advantage in the House, well over the 218 needed for a majority. However, the Democrats will need to keep defectors under a dozen or so on critical legislation, because if they can’t, their majority won’t mean much.
In the Senate, the Republicans had an extremely advantageous election, with far more Democrat Senators up for reelection than Republican. Those Democrats who were up for reelection were among the most vulnerable of Democrats. The Republicans did succeed in flipping at least two seats, with two more still to be called. The Democrats, however, pulled out a rare Senate victory in Arizona, a sign that times might be changing in the Grand Canyon State.
The Democrats also maintained control of two Senate seats which they would not have held were it not for Trump appointments: Senator Jeff Sessions should have stayed a Senator, and Representative Ryan Zinke could easily have become Senator Ryan Zinke. Instead, Sessions is out as Attorney General after a rather disappointing stint in the role and Zinke is an embattled Secretary of the Interior.
Were it not for these instances of mismanagement, the Republicans would likely have at least 55 to possibly 60 seats (the additional seats coming from not needing to divert resources to unnecessary elections. The effect of this would be that the Republicans would not need every single vote in their party to advance legislation. As it is, the final Senate count is likely to be 53-47 or 52-48. It’s a step up for the GOP from the 51-49 they had going into the midterms, but not by much.
What Does This Mean for Gun Owners?
The Democrats sure aren’t going to advance the Hearing Protection Act or a national concealed carry reciprocity bill. In a logical world, it would be possible that the Republicans could strip away some Democrats who could see reason on silencers. We don’t live in a logical world, though. Silencers are going to remain NFA items for the foreseeable future.
We are likely to see the House pass anti-gun legislation, but with the Republicans still controlling the Senate and the Presidency, those bills are not likely to go anywhere – unless. Unless they’re narrowly tailored in such a way that President Trump is open to them and enough purple-state Republicans can be persuaded to support them, they will probably not go anywhere. For example, likely Florida Senator Rick Scott signed an “extreme risk protection order” bill into law as Florida governor; it is not much of a stretch to see him voting for some legislation akin to that at the federal level. Senators Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins, both Republicans, were cosponsors of a federal extreme risk protection order bill introduced by Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal in early 2018.
We already know Trump supports the idea of “red flag” laws: he famously said that cops should “take the guns first” and have due process second. With his support, such a bill is, I believe, possible at the federal level, and I think we will see it signed by the President sometime in 2019.
Somewhat less likely is an “assault weapons” ban in the next two years. Trump himself would likely be open to it, but fewer Republican Senators would go for an assault weapons ban as compared to those who might vote for “red flag” laws. In the House, I would expect to see a new assault weapons ban pass rather early in 2019. I do not think it will become law that year or the next.
Another possible legislative move is a universal background check bill. I would expect to see this pass the House easily, perhaps even in the first few months of 2019, but the Senate is another matter. The last time some legislation like this came up as a standalone bill was in 2015. It known as the “Manchin-Toomey” bill, and it was defeated with the support of only one Republican Senator – the Toomey for whom half the bill was named. Will this trend continue, or will we see a few Republican breakaways as the gun control movement builds steam? I am not sure, but I do not think this will happen in the next two years. If it does pass the Senate, Trump will most likely sign it.
Still, I do not see much of a silver lining in this election for gun owners. Yes, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Yes, it wasn’t as bad as the 2010 and 2014 GOP successes in the midterms. Yes, the GOP still has the Senate and the Presidency, for all the good those have done since the 2016 election.
Call me a pessimist, but I don’t think good times are ahead for gun owners.
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