After misfiring in Congress, the gun control lobby is taking aim at states that allow voter-initiated ballot measures to enact tougher restrictions.
In the process, those in charge are also changing their name to the “gun safety” movement.
The policy preferences, however, remain the same.
“After a victory in November on a Washington State ballot measure that will require broader background checks on gun buyers, groups that promote gun regulations have turned away from Washington and the political races that have been largely futile,” reports the New York Times. “Instead, they are turning their attention – and their growing wallets – to other states that allow ballot measures.”
States in the crosshairs include Nevada, Arizona, Maine and Oregon. Others are sure to follow.
Conservatives should be cautiously optimistic about this move. While the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that the Second Amendment’s guarantee of a citizen’s right to “keep and bear arms” applies to the states (McDonald v. Chicago), the extent of that right is up to states and localities to decide. This is federalism. Local communities are in the best position to determine which regulations best serve the interests of residents.
But federalism as the Founders understood it assumes deliberation in the republican sense – i.e. policy choices are made by the people’s elected representatives, not by direct democracy via a statewide ballot initiative. The point of sifting public opinion through elected representation is to strip away passions and get down to first principles. Busy citizens don’t have the time or the staff carefully to review proposals that set the standards for civic life. Better to resource an elected representative with time and personnel, and then hold him accountable for the votes he casts.
Herein lies the reason to be cautious. Being thoughtful about big policy changes isn’t usually achieved in the context of a media-heavy campaign blitz dominated by 30-second ads. But this limitation is no reason for constitutional conservatives to sit on the sidelines. Removing social policy issues like gun control to the state level reduces the expense of advocacy while at the same time making the appeals more personal. If this trend continues, conservatives will need to build on their successes in other issue domains to defend traditional American values in the arenas that are available.
Though it would be better to locate policy debates within the institutions that are best equipped to handle them, if liberals want to make a direct appeal to the public, conservatives will be ready and waiting to respond.