When it comes to gun policy, there are two big takeaways I see from the debacle of the past week in Afghanistan.
The first is one that we really didn’t need this disaster in order to learn. It’s one that’s been demonstrated countless times throughout human history. But it’s also one that President Joe Biden has yet to learn: Military superiority doesn’t guarantee victory.
In June, as he’d done before, the president insisted that resisting a modern military’s overwhelming force is effectively impossible.
“Those who say the blood of… ‘the blood of patriots,’ you know, and all the stuff about how we’re going to have to move against the government,” Biden said in a speech. “Well, the tree of liberty is not watered with the blood of patriots. What’s happened is that there have never been—if you wanted or if you think you need to have weapons to take on the government, you need F-15s and maybe some nuclear weapons.”
Of course, the Taliban have recaptured the whole of Afghanistan without the use of F-15s or nuclear weapons. They did it without ever being capable of taking on the American military in open combat or creating soldiers anywhere near the quality of our own.
And they are far from the first to do so. The lesson has been taught repeatedly throughout the years. Whether by the Viet Cong or our own Founding Fathers. Many didn’t need a new teacher, let alone one composed of terrorist barbarians already imposing their own civilian gun-confiscation scheme, to learn this lesson. And I’m not sure President Biden will learn it this time either.
The second takeaway is a bit more subtle but also more directly applicable to the immediate political situation around guns in America.
The president’s stubborn refusal to change course or even admit any failure in the face of calamity provides further evidence for how he’ll handle the rest of his agenda. Or, at the very least, the parts of his agenda he is particularly invested in personally.
President Biden has repeatedly put the decision to surrender Afghanistan to the Taliban in personal terms. His late son Beau served in the Army, and he has cited not being willing to send him to Afghanistan to fight in the war as a key part of his decision-making. And he’s held a preference for military withdrawals from his time in the Senate during the Vietnam War, through the Iraq pullout when he was vice president, and on to today.
He has shown a similar level of commitment to imposing new gun restrictions and bans throughout his career. As he has said repeatedly since he launched his campaign to become president, he was a primary backer of the 1994 “assault weapons” ban and has proposed myriad gun-control policies over the past several decades. It is a personal priority of his to the point where his top self-professed wish is to repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a relatively obscure law that provides the gun industry immunity from certain kinds of frivolous lawsuits that were popular in the 1990s.
Of course, despite becoming president, he is still limited in what he can actually accomplish because of congressional gridlock. But, while he can’t get new gun legislation through, he can still pursue unilateral action. And, obviously, he’s already done that.
He’s pushing two executive actions through the federal rulemaking process. One would redefine what constitutes a firearm in order to greatly expand the ATF’s power. The other would effectively ban pistol-braced AR-15s, potentially criminalizing millions of American gun owners.
But those actions have encountered significant, nearly unprecedented public resistance. While most proposed rule changes get a handful of public comments, President Biden’s gun proposals have racked up hundreds of thousands. The pistol-brace ban has more than 130,000. The proposed redefinition of “firearm” has garnered over 240,000 almost entirely negative comments from the public.
David Chipman, the gun-control activist nominated by the president to run the ATF, has also encountered firm headwinds from his fellow agents and Democratic senators alike.
But, given the way President Biden has responded to the disaster unfolding in Afghanistan with a combination of silence and defiance, it’s likely he’ll do the same with the gun policies he can push through on his own. Perhaps that won’t matter with Chipman’s nomination since it still relies on approval from the Senate. But the likelihood that public backlash could prevent Biden’s executive actions from going into effect appears diminished.
It’s increasingly looking like gun-rights advocates will have to fight the regulations in court rather than relying on the president to back away from them—no matter the political costs he might face in doing so.