The Second Amendment is a centerpiece of American life. Every political party in the United States has a position on the constitutionally-protected right to bear arms. The firearm, like the free exercise of religion or the ability of Congress to levy taxes, is specifically mentioned in the Constitution.
Unlike religious liberty or taxes, however, the Second Amendment doesn’t have a vigorous champion in Congress. The dominant political parties support an increasingly narrow reading of the Second Amendment, either demanding more government restrictions or meekly coming to its defense in only the least controversial scenarios. Recent mob violence throughout the country only reinforces how important the Second Amendment can be for the protection of life and liberty.
There are congressmen and senators who will dutifully come to the defense of the Second Amendment in cases of emergency, but that is not enough. A serious approach to preserve the Second Amendment requires two components: first, proactive engagement; second, a systematic repeal of state and federal control. This is no different than the approach to other political issues, like the right to life, taxes and education. Members of Congress should not wait to defend the Second Amendment until a live event draws the media spotlight. (RELATED: Here’s What To Expect In 2021: Guns And The Second Amendment)
Congress has the time and bandwidth to debate Second Amendment issues, but chooses not to. For more than a year, Congress spent precious legislative time and energy on:
- Public Law No: 116-109 – Enhance penalties for pirate radio stations;
- Public Law No: 116-105 – Change the way harassing robocalls are reported and fined;
- Public Law No: 116-112 – Minting of a special coin in memory of former President George H.W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush; and
- Post office naming – Lots and lots of post offices
There was one relatively pro-firearm bill, which allows states to use more federal money to build public target ranges. Unfortunately, many “sportsman bills” tend to gather bipartisan support in spite of their pro-Second Amendment effects, serving as stalking horses for federal land grabs.
In 2017, Congress was close to passing the Hearing Protection Act. This legislation would have regulated suppressors in the same manner as firearms and allow for an instant background check, rather than a months-long waiting period. It failed to pass after the Las Vegas shooting. A suppressor was not used in that shooting, but the incident and media campaign against suppressor ownership caused supporters to meekly retreat from the bill.
In defiance of calls for more gun control and inaction by legislatures, Americans have chosen to establish zones free from further regulation of firearms. The goals of sanctuary zones vary, but they share a common opposition to reactionary federal intervention. As Shenandoah County Sheriff and Virginia Sheriffs Association President Tim Carter said, “People — in rural counties especially — they get a little upset when all of a sudden something that they could do one day … then the next day it’s illegal.” (RELATED: St. Louis Couple Facing Felony Weapons Charges)
Second Amendment sanctuary zones generally oppose universal background checks, gun confiscation orders, bans on standard capacity magazines and bans on AR-15 rifles. Sanctuary zones usually permit some basic firearm restrictions, however, such as specific background checks, short waiting periods and prohibiting certain individuals from purchasing firearms.
There are at least 34 states with counties that have passed at least a resolution declaring them a Second Amendment sanctuary zone. Last year, the Virginia legislature took a conscious tilt toward severely restricting common firearms and accessories. This galvanized hundreds of counties around the country to join the sanctuary zone movement. Without much support from state or federal leaders, citizens in those counties began a bottom-up grassroots campaign to reclaim their rights.
Beginning in January 2020, when the Chinese COVID-19 began its spread throughout the U.S., Americans took many different approaches to protecting themselves. Home goods such as paper towels and hand sanitizer were among the first items to go off the shelves. At the same time, Americans began buying firearms in record numbers.
The total number of background checks for firearm purchases, as tracked by the FBI, was 2,702,702 in January 2020, almost 600,000 more than the same time last year. In February, the total increased to 2,802,467; almost 800,000 more than the year before. As fears of coronavirus have given way to fears of mob violence, the trend only accelerated: In June, 3.9 million Americans underwent background checks to purchase firearms, a full 1.6 million more than June 2019. To put these numbers in perspective: only halfway through 2020, Americans have equaled the amount of background checks conducted in all of 2012 (over 19 million). (RELATED: The Violent End Of Law And Order)
January saw one of the most important civil rights marches held in recent memory. Tens of thousands of Americans came to Richmond, Virginia, in defense of their right to bear arms. The Virginia legislature and governor had signed several pieces of gun control into law, in opposition to the will of many Virginians. Though exact polling is spotty, many firearm owners say they won’t turn out for President Donald Trump in 2020 if he signs restricting legislation like Gun Confiscation Orders. Many firearm owners would otherwise support the president, which speaks to their commitment to the Second Amendment.
In addition to their sworn oath to protect the Second Amendment, politicians have another reason to defend it: millions of voters looking for a champion. While some data indicates that firearm controls lead to a tradeoff between a small group of Second Amendment voters for a much larger group of suburban, female, and independent voters, this paradigm is changing, particularly in light of recent events.
Second Amendment sanctuaries built a movement independent of national leadership. These communities can be unified and leveraged at the state and federal levels to expand gun rights. Millions more Americans have purchased firearms in response to the coronavirus, its ensuing economic shutdown and riots across the country.
The message is clear: Americans want to protect and expand their Second Amendment rights. The greatest service an elected official can perform on their behalf is to speak clearly about the importance of those rights, defend them, and proactively seek the repeal of state and federal gun laws. Elected officials who champion this cause will be rewarded by Americans at the ballot box.
Phil Reboli is a former Senate staffer and the Director of Government Affairs at the Conservative Partnership Institute.
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