Gun rights and gerrymandering

  • 2 November 2017
  • NormanL
How a Supreme Court case on gerrymandering might affect gun rights

The Supreme Court recently heard arguments on a case that could decide whether gerrymandered congressional districts are unconstitutional. While the left firmly believes a Court ruling striking down such districts would mean the almost immediate election of a large number of Democrats to Congress, some are also hoping it will do one more thing: make it easier to establish national gun control laws.

Writing in the Washington Post, law professors Mark S. Kaplan and Adam Winkler believe gerrymandering is the secret source of pro-Second Amendment organization's power:

People often say the National Rifle Association is so powerful because it buys off politicians. The NRA certainly does spend considerable amounts on campaigns — especially independent expenditures, or money that does not go directly to candidates. The group spent a whopping $5.6 million to defeat Democrat Deborah Ross in the 2016 North Carolina Senate race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the most spent on a single congressional candidate in the 2016 cycle.

Much of the NRA’s strength, however, comes from partisan gerrymandering. Through its endorsements, the NRA is able to swing the intense, single-issue, pro-gun voters who vote in large numbers in Republican primaries. As a result, candidates fear supporting even minimal gun safety reform for fear of losing the NRA’s support and being “primaried” by a more ideologically rigid candidate backed by the nation’s leading gun rights group.

Break the district lines, the authors say, and the gun control legislation will follow:

When it comes to guns, gerrymandering also has significant public health consequences, making it that much harder to reduce the more than 100,000 people killed and injured by firearms each year.

In the wake of Las Vegas and other recent mass shootings, nothing in federal law has changed. Reforms that could reduce the daily toll from gun violence, such as universal background checks, remain mere proposals with no chance of passage. But if the Supreme Court rules that partisan gerrymandering violates the Constitution, we may see less extreme candidates elected to Congress — and maybe we will finally break the logjam on guns.

We're not keen on the idea of politicians drawing district lines to enhance their chances of re-election. But we are also well aware that such tinkering is as old as the Republic, and that any scheme seeking to redraw the lines to favor some mythical partisan balance will ultimately fail to reach that goal.

That includes a backdoor effort at undermining the Second Amendment. While gun control proponents may think the triple bank shot of a court ruling redrawing congressional boundaries will result in legislation they want, they are likely to be disappointed. 

Gun control backers in Congress are predominately Democratic. But not all Democrats are anti-gun. Even should the court order new congressional lines, gun rights advocates will still number in their millions -- and will still be standing up for those rights at every election.