Opinion | Abortion Is Remaking Our Political Landscape. Why Aren’t Guns?

By Equipo
8 Min Read

Why don’t we talk more about guns?

Not that the issue doesn’t come up. But think about the public debate on gun control versus the one we’re having on abortion rights. Perhaps the two biggest long-running social issues in American politics, and the gulf does seem huge.

A lot of politicians who were historically opposed to abortion have clearly gotten very nervous about public opinion, worrying that being anti-choice is costing them votes. Take Arizona’s Kari Lake, one of the Republican Party’s most famous crazy-person candidates, now running for a Senate nomination. In 2022 when she was trying to get elected governor, she was a big fan of her state’s ancient ban on virtually all abortions (“a great law”).

But like many, many ambitious pols, Lake noticed that the public — even much of the conservative public — didn’t like seeing politicians mess with a woman’s right to control what happens with her own body. When a state Supreme Court suddenly upheld that Arizona abortion ban, circa 1864, Lake said that the old law was indeed “out of line with where the people of this state are.” Then she tried to drown the debate with a mystery statement. (“I chose life, but I’m not every woman. I want to make sure that every woman who finds herself pregnant has more choices so that she can make that choice that I made.”)

Got that?

Of course, if we’re talking about folks who are principle-free, there’s always Donald Trump. Our former president felt the pro-abortion-rights winds blowing when, after the Supreme Court majority he brags about creating declared abortion wasn’t a constitutional right, his party did worse than expected in the next House elections. Hoping to dump the problem on the governors, he embraced the theory that abortion was a state issue.

But when it comes to guns, Trump clearly hasn’t seen any need to search for a pseudo-middle ground. He recently attended an N.R.A. gathering in Pennsylvania, where he assured his audience that “every single Biden attack on gun owners and manufacturers will be terminated on my very first week back in office, perhaps my first day.”

Now, the idea of making abortion a state issue only works if you’re just looking for a make-believe answer that might let you escape from discussing the subject. But we don’t have a visible gun consensus. Even mass school shooting tragedies like Sandy Hook and Uvalde didn’t bring the debate to a head. Many, many politicians are still trying to protect the right of Americans to own weapons while giving at least some verbal deference to the right of everybody else not to be shot.

Shootings qualify as “mass” when a minimum of four people — shooter excluded — are hit. At this writing there have been 119 mass shootings this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. (Really kinda depressing to be living in a country that requires the services of a Gun Violence Archive.) But don’t hold me to that number — it goes up fast. Just the other day one child was killed and 10 people injured at a backyard party in Chicago and 12 people were shot outside a New Orleans nightclub, one fatally.

These terrible gun stories often happen while people are pursuing what’s supposed to be their normal life. Late last month, an Uber driver in Ohio was killed when she was dispatched to the home of an 81-year-old man who believed she was working for somebody who was trying to scam him.

The last thing we should be leaving to the individual states is gun regulation, given that it’s extremely easy — and common — for weapons to travel across state lines. And anyway, you don’t really want to rely on state legislatures when it comes to national life-or-death issues. Basically, you’d be gambling on the wisdom and prudence of people like Colorado State Representative Don Wilson, who recently had to apologize for leaving a loaded semiautomatic handgun in the State Capitol restroom.

Or the state senators in Tennessee, whose response to the terrible Nashville school shooting that left six people, including three children, dead was to pass a bill allowing teachers to carry concealed guns to work.

Is it possible for us to get to the same place on gun safety that we’re getting to on abortion — where the people who make the policy feel pressure to be sensible? Christian Heyne, an official at Brady, an organization against gun violence, thinks that when it comes to public attitudes, we’re getting there. “It’s really a new ballgame for us,” he said.

That’s in large part because of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, passed in 2022, which prevents misdemeanor offenders from purchasing guns for five years after their release from prison and enhances background checks for gun buyers under 21.

A landmark bill. Truly, that’s what they called it. Because we live in a country where when it comes to guns, basically sane can be totally impossible. One of the leaders behind the bill, Senator Chris Murphy, feels Congress tackled both the abortion and gun issues because history forced it to. The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the abortion protection in Roe v. Wade triggered an effort to pass some new authorization. And guns went back on the agenda after a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, took the lives of 19 students and two teachers.

Ordinary citizens, Murphy said, were drenched in “the feeling someone else controls their bodies and the fear that their child won’t come home from school.”

So, changes on both fronts. But totally irresponsible — sometimes totally criminal — people can still buy guns through online or gun-show setups and sell them to dealers who specialize in selling them to the exact people we don’t want to see walking around armed. Changes have been made, but the setup is still … scary. Women’s rights rule on the abortion front — or at least in states that want to restrict them, politicians are trying to disguise their intent. But the gun lobby still reigns on the shooting side of things. And Trump, for one, courts them with gusto.

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