The political map of the country is changing. The gun lobby used to be bipartisan. John Dingell, the legendary union Democrat from Michigan, served on the NRA’s board until 1994. An avid hunter, he earned an A+ rating from the lobby for many years. He helped lead Congress the NRA’s way against gun-safety proposals after the massacres at Columbine and Virginia Tech. But as the Democratic Party has become more urban—and as the NRA has veered ever more unmistakably toward white nationalism—the gun movement’s power has become tied ever more tightly to the Republican Party’s prospects. Those are seriously dimming. Democrats won more than 300 state legislative seats in 2018. They hold a majority of state attorney generalships. Republican-leaning women who used to accept NRA gun policy as part of the conservative coalition that held down their taxes have rebelled against the coalition in the age of Trump. Women are not only voting differently, but running for office in unprecedented numbers—and even fairly conservative women have zero use for the violent politics of the gun.
Hundreds of thousands of students have been through active-shooter drills—and their parents are angry about it. Only about one-third of U.S. parents now express confidence that their children are safe in school. The gun lobby may argue that the parents are overreacting, based on over-reading isolated incidents. That’s true, but it’s wonderfully ironic, since the case for guns is based on an even more radical misreading of data to mislead Americans into the false belief that guns in the house protect its dwellers.
The smartphone has challenged many of the gun culture’s most cherished illusions. Over Memorial Day weekend, a white Mississippi campsite manager drew a gun on a black couple who failed to properly register before picnicking with their dog. That encounter might once have been tallied by a gun-sympathetic social scientist as a “defensive gun use”—proving the need for firearms. In 2019, the couple bravely recorded the incident, exposing a belligerent jerk needlessly escalating an everyday misunderstanding.
As the political tide turns, the pro-gun cause turns to ever more aggressively anti-majoritarian methods. In 2018, the state of Oregon voted massively blue. It elected a Democratic governor, by a margin of more than six points of the vote. It returned a House with a Democratic supermajority of 38 to 22, and a Senate with a Democratic supermajority of 18 to 12. This spring, the lower house approved a cautious array of new gun-safety measures. The law required gun owners to store their guns safely and imposed liability on them if their guns were used in a crime; outlawed untraceable firearms; required hospitals to provide firearms-injury data to state authorities; and allowed gun retailers to voluntarily limit sales to customers over age 21. It did not restrict ownership of any weapon or weapon component. Unable to defeat the bill, Oregon Republicans walked out of the legislature, denying a quorum, until Democrats agreed to withdraw it. (Republicans also forced the withdrawal of a law ending nonmedical exemptions for vaccination.)