Public opinion has been on a years-long shift away from support for new gun-control laws, but high-profile mass shootings have a way of putting a stop to that historically.
Will the status quo change after the attack in Buffalo? And if so, will there be new momentum to pass new gun control?
Initial polling on the question of gun control following the shooting has yielded conflicting results. Reactions from the immediate aftermath of a tragedy may not be the most reliable indicator of longer-term trends in any event.
Nevertheless, a political push has begun on gun control both at the state and federal level. The prospects of success for those advocating new laws vary widely between the two levels of government.
In New York, the formerly NRA-backed Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul left no illusion as to her current stance on gun control. She announced on Wednesday her “comprehensive plan to combat domestic terrorism and prevent gun violence” that included a signed executive order requiring the New York State Police to issue Extreme Risk Protection Orders when they encounter an individual they have probable cause to believe may be a threat.
She also announced that she was working with the state legislature to pass three new gun control bills that would expand the state’s “assault weapon” ban. She wants to include more semi-automatic rifles, require all state law enforcement agencies to report recovered “crime guns” within 24 hours, and require microstamping technology on all semi-automatic pistols sold in the state.
Despite already having some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, and despite the fact that none of these new proposals are particularly responsive to the failures that led to the Buffalo shooting, the political landscape of the heavily Democratic state means her push will likely succeed.
At the federal level, the story is a bit different. President Joe Biden called for a federal “assault weapon” ban during his visit to Buffalo this week. But gun control did not feature heavily in his remarks. He has since largely demurred on the prospects of new federal action on guns.
“Not much on executive action,” Biden told reporters when asked if he was considering additional gun-control executive orders. “I’ve got to convince the Congress that we should go back to what I passed years ago. It’s going to be very difficult. Very difficult.”
“We have enough laws on the books to deal with what’s going on now,” he added. “We just have to deal with it.”
Senators Cory Booker (D.-NJ), Bob Menendez (D.-NJ), and Richard Blumenthal (D.-Conn.) introduced a sweeping new gun control bill on Thursday, according to Politico. The bill would make it a requirement to obtain a federally issued license from the Department of Justice before a person could purchase and own a firearm.
According to the text of the bill, requirements to obtain the license would include passing both a written and live-fire gun safety test, a criminal background check with fingerprinting, and proof of identity. Additionally, a person would have to be 21-years-old to obtain a permit and must submit the make, model, and serial number of the firearm they intend to purchase as well as their identity—creating a de facto registry as well as a de facto ban on gun ownership of 18–20-year-olds. The license would only be valid for one firearm at a time.
“This is the moment to enact ambitious legislation – as a nation, we must rise to it, or we are fated to witness the deadly scenes of this past weekend and years past over again,” Senator Booker told Politico in a statement.
While the legislation is certainly aggressive, it is also dead on arrival. The Democrat-controlled Senate has been unwilling to move even a universal background check bill that passed the House over a year ago. Since then, the political environment has only gotten more precarious for Democrats with the 2022 midterm elections drawing nearer. A massive expansion of federal power over regulating gun sales that would create a de facto federal gun registry is clearly a political non-starter at the moment.
So, in a sense, it seems the political status quo around gun control is unlikely to shift. Deep blue states like New York, where gun control already plays well politically, could rush to pass new laws whether or not they address the enabling factors in the Buffalo shooting. And at the federal level, the stalemate will almost certainly continue.