It’s now been nearly a week since election day. While not all of the races have been officially called, the dust has begun to settle, and we have a better idea of how the new balance of power will influence gun policy in the next couple of years.
At the national level, the Democrats will retain control of the Senate. The exact margin will not be clear until the results of next month’s runoff election in Georgia are in, but it appears it will either be a 50-50 or 51-49 split favoring Democrats when all is said and done. In the House, Republicans still appear to be favored to take control of the chamber, but the extent of their majority remains unclear. It’s clear that whatever advantage the party ultimately holds in the House, it will be fairly slim.
Nevertheless, those final projections give us a good idea of what to expect when it comes to gun policy in the 118th Congress. With split-party control of the legislature, even under narrow majorities, don’t expect a single gun bill to make it to the President’s desk.
You can bet that a GOP-controlled House will not be bringing any gun bills to the floor resembling those of the previous session—namely, the “assault weapon” ban and universal background check bills. Their projected slim margin of control makes it unlikely that any legislation expanding gun rights is given serious consideration either. The make-up of the Senate is such that, even if the Democrats pick up a seat, nothing they attempt to do on gun policy will be able to survive a GOP filibuster. And GOP Senators, being in the minority, will not be able to advance any pro-gun legislation either.
Even another major compromise bill like the one signed into law earlier this year is unlikely to have a chance. The Republican calculus in passing that bipartisan bill was to give a small concession in order to satiate the public during a time of heightened desire for action on gun policy. In other words, Republicans won’t be looking to burn that kind of political capital again anytime soon.
At the state level, however, there could be new movement on gun policy in locations where the balance of power has shifted due to last week’s election.
In Michigan, Democrats gained unified control of the state legislature while retaining the Governor’s seat. Gun-control advocates passing legislation is now a distinct possibility in the state where it once was quite unlikely (Republicans held unified control just four years ago). Democrats now have a trifecta for the first time in nearly 40 years, and they’ve already started talking about prioritizing new gun-control laws.
In nearby Minnesota, the story is much of the same. The state’s Democratic party flipped control of the state senate, albeit narrowly, to achieve trifecta control. With that new balance of power in mind, Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman (D.) has already pledged that “gun violence” will be one of the top issues in the coming legislative session. Likewise, Governor Tim Walz (D.) has said that public safety and red flag laws will be some of his priorities, according to Axios.
In Illinois, newly reelected Governor J.B. Pritzker (D.) was explicit about what he’d like to see come out of the Democrat supermajority-controlled Illinois legislature, and an “assault weapon” ban is apparently at the top of his list.
“The fact is, whether we get it done in November, or we get it done in January, early in the session, whenever that may be, we are going to work on passing an assault weapon ban […],” Pritzker said shortly after his election victory, according to The Center Square.
In Colorado, Democrats’ gains in both chambers of the state assembly on Tuesday could see their gun-control efforts expand. Newly armed with near veto-proof majorities in both chambers, and bolstered by an influx of left-wing legislators in the state House, its quite possible that Colorado Democrats attempt to pass more aggressive gun-control measures. That includes an “assault weapon” ban.
Finally, in a state shift that could be a boon for gun-rights advocates, Republicans gained seats in both chambers of the North Carolina state assembly. That gain could be the key to reviving an earlier effort to reform the state’s handgun laws.
Last year, the state legislature passed a bill that would repeal the state’s Jim Crow-era law requiring residents to get a permit in order to purchase a handgun. That bill was ultimately vetoed by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper (D.), and the Republican-controlled state assembly was unable to override the veto due to slim majorities in both chambers.
Following Tuesday’s election, however, Republicans in the state senate gained a veto-proof majority and came just one seat shy of doing the same in the state house. Considering that at least two house Democrats voted in favor of the bill last time, it’s entirely possible that the state’s permit-to-purchase law gets repealed this session whether or not Governor Cooper approves.
In the end, the midterms won’t have changed much for the prospects of new federal gun legislation going forward. The President will likely continue calling for sweeping new gun bans, but a closely divided Congress will not be in a position to accommodate his requests. The state level is a different story. The election results created many new opportunities for significant movement on state gun policy that will be worth keeping an eye on.