“Elections have consequences” is an old adage in politics, made especially famous by then-President Obama in the aftermath of the 2008 election. But it’s just as relevant now in the current context of state legislative sessions across the country, especially when it comes to gun policy.
On Tuesday, the Minnesota state legislature approved a “red flag” law to temporarily confiscate guns from people deemed a threat to themselves or others and expanded background check requirements for most private gun sales. It now finds itself on its way to the desk of Governor Tim Walz (D.), who has said he will sign it into law.
“As a veteran, gun-owner, hunter, and dad, I know that basic gun safety isn’t a threat to the Second Amendment,” Walz tweeted on Wednesday. “It’s about our first responsibility to our kids: Keeping them safe. When the bill reaches my desk, I’m going to sign a red flag law and background checks into law.”
The bill’s passage marks a significant win for gun-control advocates on its own merits, but it also marks the latest instance of new movement on gun bills in states where Democrats gained political power in the 2022 midterm elections. Last November, the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party regained trifecta control of the state government for the first time since 2014 after flipping the state Senate by a one-seat margin. That gave the party the votes to finally pass new gun restrictions after years of unsuccessful attempts due to Republican opposition.
A similar dynamic played out in nearby Michigan, where the state’s Democratic party retained control of the Governor’s seat in 2022 against unpopular Trump-backed Republican challenger Tudor Dixon while flipping control of the House and Senate—the latter of which had been in Republican hands since 1983. The state’s Democratic lawmakers took full advantage of this newly-minted trifecta to pass mandatory safe storage requirements, universal background checks, and its own version of a “red flag” law.
And just this week, Maryland Governor Wes Moore (D.) signed into law new safe firearm storage requirements and his state’s version of a Bruen-response bill creating a wide variety of new “gun-free zones” and increasing the fees to apply for a carry permit. The bills’ signing would have been far more difficult had Democrats not flipped control of the Governor’s mansion in 2022. Moore defeated Trump-backed candidate Dan Cox in a landslide. Cox garnered just 32 percent of the vote in a state whose popular Republican governor, Larry Hogan, had just retired after finishing his second term.
Of course, the 2022 midterms were not a total defeat for Republicans or gun-rights advocates. The “elections have consequences” axiom applies in both directions. In the few places Republicans performed well, gun-rights advocates have since seen corresponding legislative victories.
For instance, Nevada Governor Joe Lombardo (R.) vetoed three gun control bills this week passed by the near-supermajority Democratic state legislature. Together the bills would have banned anyone under the age of 21 from possessing any semi-automatic long gun, banned gun carry within 100 feet of polling places, and added gross misdemeanors to the list of offenses that would prohibit someone from owning guns under state law.
“I will not support legislation that infringes on the constitutional rights of Nevadans,” Lombardo said in a statement accompanying his vetoes. “Much of the legislation I vetoed today is in direct conflict with legal precedent and established constitutional protections. Therefore, I cannot support them.”
Lombardo was only in a position to stop those bills because he bucked the underperformance that plagued the rest of his party last November en route to being the only GOP gubernatorial candidate to unseat an incumbent Governor.
Likewise, while the proverbial “red wave” failed to materialize in most of the country, it certainly arrived in North Carolina, where Republicans secured a veto-proof majority in the state Senate and a near supermajority in the state House. The state party used that increased control to its advantage this session, successfully overriding Governor Roy Cooper’s (D.) veto of a bill to repeal the state’s pistol purchase permit law.
And finally, there is the example of Florida, where the “red wave” was perhaps at its apex. But for the sizable electoral victory achieved by Governor Ron DeSantis (R.) and other Republicans down the ballot, it is highly unlikely that permitless carry would have been enacted this year.
Outside of the deepest of blue states, where gun control is a perennial fixture of the legislative session, the most significant new gun restrictions have been in states where Republicans underperformed expectations in 2022. Likewise, many of the gun-rights movement’s greatest success stories outside of the safest red states have come thanks to last November’s races that bucked the trend of Republicans faceplanting at the ballot box.
Gun politics are perhaps more polarized than ever, thanks to the Democratic party moving left on the issue while gun-rights advocates have become increasingly intertwined with Republican politics. So long as that remains the case, expect to see consequential electoral results continue to set the tone for the biggest shifts in the gun-policy landscape.