Activists who want to ban “assault weapons,” including the popular AR-15, faced multiple setbacks this week. Legal and political events cast doubt on the future of those bans in the United States.
The most obvious development was a federal judge ruling California’s ban unconstitutional. The ruling was the first time a district court judge struck down a state-wide ban. The ruling has been stayed, so nothing changes for the average Californian just yet. The Ninth Circuit may well reverse the lower court’s decision (or they may not, as I discussed last week) but, if they do, the timing will be good for a newly invigorated Supreme Court to take up the case. That could spell the end for “assault weapon” bans across the country.
But a smaller development in Virginia may be just as valuable in judging the political standing of these gun bans. Delegate Mark Levine (D.) was the major driving force behind the push to pass new gun laws after Democrats captured total control of the state government. He sponsored two successful gun bills and managed to shepherd an assault weapons ban to passage in the House of Delegates before moderate Democrats defeated it in the state senate.
On Tuesday, after running on his gun record, he lost his bid to be the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. Worse, he lost reelection for his own seat. Levine is now completely out of state government just a year after leading the successful House effort to pass new gun laws.
His opponent doesn’t appear to be a gun-rights proponent, but she didn’t even mention the issue on her website, and her campaign focused on climate change and economic issues. That suggests pushing for a ban on AR-15s and other guns did little to help Levine and may have even hurt him in his deep-blue district.
This is likely why Levine didn’t even bother to introduce his failed assault weapons bill in 2021, and Virginia Democrats largely left guns alone during the election-year session. We can see the same effect at the national level too. Democrats have control over the House of Representatives but didn’t even put an “assault weapons” ban to a vote in 2020, haven’t done so to this point in 2021, and are exceedingly unlikely to do so before the 2022 midterms.
It’s actually quite odd that bans on AR-15s have consistently been at the center of the gun-control debate over the past 30 years, since only eight states have actually passed one, and they all passed their initial bans three decades ago. Permitless gun carry has been passed in 19 states over the past decade. The same number have passed “red flag” laws.
Assault weapons bans have been politically stagnant since the 90s, but we still talk about them all the time. That may be coming to an end soon, though.