With Republicans in control in Washington D.C., many Second Amendment activists assumed their right to keep and bear arms was safe.
When one political party controls the House, Senate, and the presidency, the public expects the legislative and executive branches will work in tandem to further their party’s political goals. Known as ‘unified government’, the assumption is that legislation will be easier to pass when one party controls all the steps. Working in a unified government seems like it is worth the wait; indeed it doesn’t happen often. But deracinated from any principles, a unified government can be dangerous to our liberties.
In November 2016, the Republican Party achieved its goal of unified government. The last time this happened was in 2001 under George W. Bush. Though the 2016 election was unconventional in many ways, some evergreen political issues held voters’ attention.
The Second Amendment was an important issue for Republican voters. It was also important for Democrats, if for different reasons. Republican voters did not want to live under the specter of Hillary Clinton gun control after finishing out eight uneasy years fretting over an Obama White House.
The controversy and debate around firearms rose to a crescendo during Obama’s administration. A number of high profile public shootings and the rhetoric that followed caused many to believe that the Obama administration was a pen stroke away from a sweeping firearms ban.
Estimates of the number of mass shootings vary. Different groups use different metrics to define a mass shooting; some call it four deaths or more. Others say six or more. By at least one account, 14 mass shootings occurred during the Obama administration. After every one of those shootings, there were loud calls for further firearms regulations.
But whether attributable to Obama’s apathy, or gun owners’ tenacity, Obama left the laws on firearms largely as he found them. In some cases, he actually liberalized those laws.
Republicans were concerned that a Hillary Clinton presidency would create a political atmosphere inhospitable to the Second Amendment. This was not without some justification. Her husband, President Bill Clinton, passed a large package of gun control measures that lasted a decade until they were rescinded in 2004. Mr. Trump was seen as such a weak candidate that pundits and poll watchers thought not only that he would lose – badly – but that he would doom the down-ballot candidates. The result would be unified Democrat government control and at least one Supreme Court vacancy.
Anticipating the consequences of a Clinton victory, the NRA poured $36.3 million dollars into the 2016 election. A record-breaking amount for the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. When Trump pulled off an improbable victory and the House and Senate remained in Republican hands, advocates of the Second Amendment assumed firearms were safe. Some even speculated that all gun control laws could be on the chopping block.
Not only was the firearms community expecting rifle shot approaches to firearms legislation, such as treating suppressors (i.e. silencers) as any other firearms accessory, but they hoped to fulfill other longstanding goals.
Some of the most offensive gun control laws they wanted to repeal included:
- The 1986 Firearm Owners Protection Act made it illegal for any private citizen who is not an FFL/SOT, from owning a f