The Fate of Federal Gun Control Bills Depends on West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin
If you haven’t lived under a rock or safely in your “COVID den”, you’ve probably heard that the call for new federal gun control laws is really well underway. Like other recently controversial measures, they are currently sailing through the House of Representatives but will encounter a major roadblock that may prevent them from becoming law: a Senate filibuster.
A quick look back: How invoices become laws
For those unfamiliar with the legislative process, let’s discontinue the wayback machine for the early 1970s and take a quick look at the way federal laws are passed.
Laws are passed by simple majority in the House of Representatives, but it is more complicated in the Senate. When a senator or group of senators wants to kill a bill, they can speak against the bill indefinitely (this is known as a filibuster). It takes 60 votes to end the filibuster and put the bill to a vote.
There are a few exceptions: The recent pork-laden Covid Relief bill passed the Senate with a narrow 50-49 vote using a special set of budget balancing rules that only requires a simple majority. Democrats have threatened to completely kill the supposedly white supibassist filibuster, but they have encountered a roadblock.
Why they need Joe Manchin
Even without the filibuster, the Democrats have their hands full. With a 50:50 balance of power in the Senate, they have to keep everyone in tune in order to achieve something. Then the Vice President can act in her role as President of the Senate and cast the vote.
While Democrats display a remarkable level of party discipline, they are not a monolith. There are some who are willing to stand up against the leadership on certain issues.
This is where Joe Manchin comes in. As a Democrat from a very red state (Trump won West Virginia by 39 percentage points), Manchin has to consider the deplorable things in his homeland. At the same time, however, he has most of his own party and the media are pushing him from the left. Now he’s maybe the only Senate Democrat who doesn’t want to change the rules and kill the filibuster (although Kristen Sinema of Arizona made a noise too).
Gun control bills in the house
Democrats know almost no gun legislation will clear the Senate when they have to overcome a filibuster. There are simply not enough votes to end the debate. That didn’t stop them working hard to get gun control through the house, however.
HR 8, the “Universal Background Check” bill, would prohibit private arms sales that do not go through the FFL. The bill’s authors claim that there are many exemptions for loaning, selling, or giving to family members, but that is not the main problem with the bill. A federal register would still be illegal if HR 8 passed, but it would create the perfect conditions for future successful registration of a registration law.
But as with all gun laws, criminals will not obey them, so the law no longer prevents them from getting guns than the strict laws in democratically dominated states do now. The ridiculous claims of 90% + support for the bill from polls are also dubious, with actual background check electoral initiatives gaining less than 50% of the vote in several states.
HR 1446 would fill the alleged loophole in Charleston and give the FBI / NICS more time to conduct background checks. If a dealer does not receive a rejection within 3 days, they can currently legally sell the gun to a customer. This prevents the government from imposing a de facto gun ban by dragging their feet and never doing background checks. HR 1446 would allow them to delay a sale for up to 10 days, which could allow them to create a national waiting period by claiming they cannot keep up with the volume of background checks.
What will Manchin do?
These bills will easily pass the house (HR 8 passed earlier this morning). You will die in the Senate, however, unless the filibuster is finished. To do this, Democrats need Joe Manchin to choose their path. Because of this, groups like Gun Owners of America are urging people to ask Sen. Manchin to keep his word and not vote to kill the filibuster.
The concern is that after the Sandy Hook shooting, Sen. Manchin and Sen. Pat Toomey pushed for universal background checks, but those efforts failed. Manchin’s firm support for the filibuster so far is likely the only thing keeping the House’s background check bills – not to mention a possible future ban on assault weapons, magazine capacity limits, and the repeal of the PLCAA – from closing President Bidenharris’ desk for signature to reach. And that’s a thin reed on which you can hang the gun rights of the Americans.