On Guns and Credit

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In Kentucky today Mitch McConnell said there can only be a deal on guns if it doesn’t do anything on guns but rather focuses on the “real issues” of mental health and school safety. So it seems we’re getting to the end of the standard Republican cooling off period in which Republicans make sounds about moving on gun legislation until the initial shock of the latest child massacre has worn off and they can go back to “no.” But I wanted to address a question that has come up in many of your emails in recent days about a notional bipartisan Senate deal on guns.

The hypothetical goes like this. Say there’s a deal but it’s a deal over something really, really minor, even marginal. Maybe it’s a red flag law or a 21 year old age limit on certain gun purchases. Many of you have asked whether it’s worth it to allow Republicans some “credit” on the gun issue or take some of the pressure off them in exchange for something so minor. A number of you think it’s not.

There’s a real ethical question about whether we should look at legislation through such a prism. But I think we can set that aside. Because the premise here is just wrong. If Republicans allow a vote on some minor reform no one who cares about this issue is going to change their minds about the Republican role on the national gun issue. But even more important they’re not looking for credit! They don’t need it. The premise here is that Democrats somehow have Republicans on the ropes on the gun issue. Working with them on some minor reform will take the pressure off them and make deeper reforms less likely.

This is a fantasy.

Republicans aren’t under any pressure. They don’t care about the “credit” and they actually wouldn’t get much credit. As a strategic stance, Republicans are actually right to think that since there really isn’t much pressure, “no” is the best position. Once you agree to even minor reforms on an issue of such grave public concern you’ve validated that it’s a problem and that legislators can at least do somethings to address it, even if they’re not total solutions. It’s not like the dam would break if a few small reforms passed. But any trend would be in that direction more than the opposite.

Progress is progress. Don’t overthink it. Thinking that Democrats need to drive a hard bargain to give Republicans any “credit” is just a total misunderstanding of the political reality of the situation. Republicans aren’t hurting over this. They’re fine.

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