National Review

NRPLUS Conference Call with Charles C. W. Cooke and David Harsanyi

(NRO Illustration: Elijah Smith)

Yesterday morning, NR.com editor Charles C. W. Cooke spoke with author and syndicated columnist David Harsanyi to members of the NRPLUS group on a private conference call. The pair discussed the efforts to limit gun-control legislation in America in the aftermath of the recent mass shootings in Gilroy, Calif.; El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio.

Charlie opened the call by talking about a shift in the Democratic party’s wisdom on guns. Democrats learned from poor performance in elections in the 90s that guns get in the way of their other candidates. Al Gore, for example, likely lost Tennessee because of his anti-gun stance. But now, nearly every candidate has endorsed a ban on all guns. What changed?

David replied by pointing out that the Democrats and America have changed a lot since then. Overall, the Democratic has moved far more left, and Americans are becoming far less concerned about protecting the Second Amendment and adamantly defending the Constitution. The Democrats portray this world of a mass shooting every day and gun violence up year-on-year and out of control, when that isn’t true. America has also changed, David argued, to become a place in which many voters — urban, millennial voters — have never seen or interacted with guns. Finally, why would Democrats be concerned with unpopular gun legislation? What state would they lose that they haven’t already lost?

Of course, the GOP is a different story, given that Republicans could lose states due to unpopular gun regulations, which is the spirit of Charlie’s next question to David. Despite being anti-Second Amendment before 2016, Trump sufficiently convinced the NRA that he would be a strong defender of the Second Amendment, and earned their endorsement. But so far, Trump has seemed quite malleable with regard to gun legislation. Charlie’s question: Will Trump’s uncertainty on guns hurt him in 2020?

David argued that there isn’t an upside for Trump embracing any kind of legislation that wouldn’t pass in Congress and would anger his core. Trump’s process seems to go like this: He advocates some gun restriction that his conservative base wouldn’t like based off of a gut feeling because he doesn’t understand how passionate conservatives are about these issues, then backs off when someone explains what that would  mean and, therefore, do to his electability.

Next, Charlie turned to the history of guns, and how the left came up with their idea that a passioned defense of the Second Amendment is some sort of aberration that was invented and helped along by the NRA and Antonin Scalia. One of David’s books, First Freedom: A Ride Through America’s Enduring History with the Gun, was about this topic — and it really isn’t true at all.

David agreed, and explained that, going back to England before the founding, the accepted underlying idea of self-defense was that people should be able to use weapons, whether it’s guns or some other type of weaponry, if they need them. During neither the founding nor the Civil War did an argument otherwise occur until the 1930s and the rise of gangsters in cars with tommy guns. Never, as far as David had found, had there been an argument made that the Second Amendment was just a collective right that you could join a militia. It’s revisionist history, he said, to make a case that the NRA is the founder of these ideas of self-defense. The NRA did become in the 70s an advocacy group for gun rights, but because no other group existed to fill that role. If they hadn’t taken responsibility, another group would’ve arisen and become an advocacy group. What the NRA is saying hasn’t changed much at all.

Next, Charlie proposed to David a situation that few would consider likely but many would consider terrifying: Suppose that Trump loses the presidency in 2020 and Democrats keep the House and take a marginal majority in the Senate. “What in your view,” Charlie asked, “is the most likely gun-control measure that they would go for or plausibly get through?” David suspects an assault-weapons ban, some red-flag law, and an expanded universal background check would be the most likely for Democrats to push forward, though which ones would pass would depend upon who would be in the Senate at the time. He said he thinks that those are the three focus points, with nothing much else passed.

Charlie disagreed with David on the first gun-control measure, arguing that an assault-weapons ban would be very hard to pass. Last time the Democrats had the Senate, he said, they could only muster 40 out of 60 votes. It’s tough because you can’t do it without banning the majority of all guns in the U.S., and for that reason it’s quite odd that it’s come back up. He agreed that it is a real threat, but that just 4 or 5 years ago even, focusing on assault weapons was a waste of time. David agreed that it would probably not pass, and added that the elasticity of the word “assault” is part of the problem, as gun-control advocates look to it because it’s a scary word and it moves the emotions of voters. Charlie added that this way of framing gun control sort of inverts how we pass laws, because it begins by recruiting people to a movement to ban assault weapons, then waiting until everyone’s on board to define what it is.

Finally, the pair took questions from members, who were commenting in the Facebook group and sending questions via plus@nationalreview.com and the conferencing system. One user asked what the odds were that the Supreme Court held up a so-called “assault” weapon ban. Charlie’s response was that he does not have faith that the Supreme Court would defend the Second Amendment because Justice Clarence Thomas has already demonstrated that he may not. David answered by agreeing that he’s always worried about the Supreme Court, but pointed out the NRA’s concern about Heller. Initialy, the NRA didn’t want the case to move forward, as it was concerned about a potential loss in the Supreme Court. But, after pressure from some more libertarian lawyers, they did press on and wound up winning. David’s hope is that banning assault weapons, “whatever that means,” would be found unconstitutional.

You can listen to the call in full at the link above. Be sure to keep your eyes out for an email for the next call. We look forward to seeing you there and on the NRPLUS members-only Facebook group.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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