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GOP compromise on gun rights aren't winning votes or solving problems | Opinion

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Senate Republicans seem to think they are defusing a potential problem by playing along with anti-gun activists and agreeing to a legislative "compromise" on guns. They assume reaching a deal would dampen criticism of their support for gun rights and do them some good at the polls. They are mistaken. A new gun control bill would be just another instance of GOP moderates being enticed by their liberal opponents into doing something that will undermine support from the conservative base they need if they're going to take back control of Congress this fall.

The impetus for the bill—which was passed by the Senate on Tuesday with the votes of 14 Republicans—was the news of mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas. The outrage and frustration over the frequency of these atrocities created an opening for Democrats to return to their demands for more gun control legislation.

Restricting the right to own a gun wouldn't have prevented any or all of the mass shootings. In a country where guns outnumber people, the notion that nibbling away at the edges of gun rights with measures that inconvenience law-abiding citizens, but go ignored by criminals, will solve the problem remains ludicrous.

But Senate Republicans are clearly sensitive to the criticism that any resistance to "doing something" about guns shows that they are hardhearted and aren't listening to the voters. Backed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the GOP senators who signed on to the bill hope to insulate themselves and their party from the charge that they are somehow responsible for the blood shed by mass shooters.

There are several problems with this strategy.

Some proposals in the new gun package seem anodyne. More funding for school security is absolutely necessary. So is allocating more resources for mental health awareness. Those facts, on which Republicans and Democrats generally agree, contradict the claims of gun rights opponents like Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) that talk of mental illness and gun violence is "bulls**t."

Other elements are more problematic.

The expansion of background checks, which already make purchasing a gun a daunting process, is also on the agenda. The bill includes a still-unresolved dispute about closing a so-called boyfriend loophole to make it harder for individuals who have been accused of domestic abuse to obtain a weapon. Given the plague of domestic violence, that seems reasonable. But even though the Republicans insisted on allowing dating partners convicted of a misdemeanor to regain the right to buy a gun after five years, provided that they were first-time offenders and not found guilty of any other violent offense, this also involves the denial of a constitutional right largely without any due process.

Due process is also at the heart of the effort to fund and encourage states to adopt or expand "red flag laws" that enable the government to take a weapon away from someone who is considered a threat to themselves or others.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 7: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks during a news conference after a closed-door lunch meeting with Senate Republicans at the U.S. Capitol on June 7, 2022 in Washington, DC. McConnell told reporters he hoped the two parties could find common ground on potential gun violence legislation. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) Drew Angerer/Getty Images

It is possible to argue that, if enforced, red flag laws might have prevented some shootings. Yet laws already exist to deprive those convicted of felonies of the right to purchase a gun. Expanding them requires having faith in the fairness of a system that would be predicated on preemptively stripping people of their rights without them having actually committed a crime, requiring them to prove their innocence.

More important, this effort comes at a time when Democrats are increasingly labeling public criticism of left-wing policies as domestic terrorism. There is no reason for conservatives to trust a process that will in many places be controlled by political opponents who think of them as deplorable insurrectionists. That Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) once tweeted that red flag laws should be used to prevent conservative pundit Ben Shapiro from owning a gun demonstrates why such fears are far from unreasonable.

The negotiations are not a compromise but an attempt by Democrats to elicit Republican concessions toward the ultimate goal of effectively annulling the Second Amendment. Giving in on these points will not lessen the pressure from Democrats to go further after this bill is passed. Bowing to demands to "do something" as part of an emotional response to Buffalo or Uvalde won't take the heat off Republicans. By giving ground, McConnell's moderates will only fan the flames of the Left's already overheated campaign against gun manufacturers and gun owners.

That virtually nothing in this bill will address the gang violence, drug trafficking, and surge in crime in American cities merely underscores the one-sided nature of the gun negotiations.

And what about the idea that a "compromise" on gun control will help the GOP in upcoming elections? Liberals take it as a given that voters want more and more gun control but that Republicans' fealty to the "gun lobby" prevents it.

But as New York Times correspondent Nate Cohn recently conceded, the results of polls on guns largely depend on how the questions are framed. Few minds are being changed on either side of the political divide. Polls taken before and after the most recent incidents show that GOP voters are far less supportive of increasing gun control than Democrats are, and worry more about protecting gun rights than the never-ending search for laws that can stop mass shootings.

As Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.)—who had been assigned by McConnell to lead the Republicans in the gun control negotiations—learned last week when he was booed at the Texas state GOP convention, conservatives believe that on this issue the party's D.C. establishment is getting rolled by the Left.

Cooperation with the Democrats does nothing to silence the cries that the GOP is in thrall to gun nuts. Instead it legitimizes the Left's view that guns are a plague that must be taken off the market.

Given that there is no assurance that any of these measures would prevent another Uvalde or a similar horror, standing firm on gun rights is both good policy and good politics for Republicans. Concessions won't solve any of the nation's problems—but could create one for the GOP's own voters.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS.org, a senior contributor to The Federalist and a columnist for the New York Post. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

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