It’s clear that the “Bipartisan Safer Communities Act” was written in a rush by politicians far more interested in “doing something” about guns than proposing any well-considered ideas. That’s surely the reason the Senate took a procedural vote only a few hours after releasing the text, and why they’ll probably pass the bill in a few days. It’s going to take years, however, to figure out how it all works. The bill’s numerous vague, open-ended provisions will almost surely be abused by prosecutors, cops, aggrieved family members, exes, and political opponents. And, in the meantime, the likelihood that any of its provisions will help mitigate mass shootings is very small.
That said, no one should fool themselves. Though many conservatives will be furious about the bill, it’s unlikely to be unpopular with most voters. Facing a string of horrific school shootings, voters are uninterested in hearing debates about due process or complaints from some 19-year-old who wants an AR. The media, of course, will frame the bill as a common-sense no-brainer.
“Since the shooting, my office has received tens of thousands of calls, letters, and emails with a singular message: Do something,” John Cornyn, the Republicans’ lead negotiator, said yesterday. “Not do nothing. But do something. I think we’ve found some areas where there is some space for compromise.” Cornyn spent more time bragging about the things he rejected than championing the useful ideas he brought to the bill, because it is almost surely the case that he brought none. This bill exists so that Republicans can say they did something. Not nothing. Something.
What does something look like? No one, presumably, opposes new federal support for enhanced school security or mental health funding (other than perhaps Chris Murphy, who believes “mental health” concerns are “bullsh-t;” maybe that was his compromise?). Another big chunk of the law is filler, reiterating the illegality of trafficking and straw purchases. Gun control advocates often point to the low prosecution rates for those crimes, but that has far more to do with authorities failing to enforce laws that already exist than a lack of them.
On federal red flag law funding, perhaps the most controversial provision, the bill makes a big show of demanding protections for “due process rights” and against “infringement of the Constitution.” It demands there be penalties against “abuse of the program.” All of this is unenforceable, as Republicans know. A number of blue states have already passed red flag laws that nullify gun rights on the word of third-party accusations—sometimes, ex parte—and not only demand the accused prove their innocence before having their rights reinstated but allow for property searches without the usual evidentiary standards. Until the Supreme Court undoes these laws, highly unlikely, states will receive funding. But it’s one thing for California or Rhode Island to do so, and it’s another for national Republicans to fund their efforts.
Moreover, there is scant evidence that red flag laws do much to prevent violence. Most studies that contend to prove red flag laws work, do so by drilling into the consciousness of those who’ve lost their guns and predicting their behavior. The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, certainly no NRA champion, went through every mass shooting since 2015 and came up with only two instances where red flag laws might have potentially stopped a shooter. In one of them, the Parkland massacre, the police had ignored outright threats made by the shooter that would already have allowed them to take away his guns.
The bill will also close off the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” so that not only spouses, but anyone convicted of a misdemeanor violent attack who is in “a continuing serious relationship of a romantic or intimate nature” between two people can have their guns removed.
Republicans will also be helping Democrats, for the first time in a long time, expand a category of person prohibited from owning guns. Anyone 18 to 21 with a juvenile record, sealed or expunged—though it’s difficult to tell—that includes a felony or misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence or was involuntarily committed after the age of 16 might not be able to purchase a gun. The wait time can be 10 days instead of the usual three. It is unclear to me if this means Americans of any age will be barred from purchasing a gun if they had a juvenile record? The entire section is a mess.
In the end, though, nothing will change in our political environment. Today, the corrupt corporate media and Democrats will herald the law as breaking a “logjam,” the first gun “safety” law in 30 years. This is untrue. Congress has passed numerous gun laws. Thousands of gun laws and regulations exist in the United States. No right has ever been more regulated. And, in a few days, Democrats will return to accusing Republicans of supporting terrorism and abetting child murder. Senators like Murphy will be back to demanding bans on semi-automatic rifles and arguing for backdoor national registries. Within weeks, if not earlier, the media will tell us that the bill was a mere, tiny, first step in bringing the United States in line with other civilized countries. For one side, the “Bipartisan Safer Communities Act” will be a fleeting win, for the other, an incremental step in a crusade to limit national gun ownership.