Hints of Progress on Gun Reform?

And no justice, no Peeps

Welcome to the big Sunday edition of Progressives Everywhere!

On this Easter Sunday, I want to give a shoutout to Peeps, a delicious marshmallow candy that is made by empowered union employees. In 2016, the workers at the Just Born plant in Bethlehem, PA went on strike, chanting “No justice, no Peeps!” as they protested the company’s refusal to improve their pay and benefits. In 2018, they won a court case that forced Just Born to honor their pension plan for new employees. Sweet, sweet justice.

Here’s what I’ve got for you today:

  • A look at the state of gun reform

  • A dive into Texas Republicans’ effort to further suppress voting rights

  • Some news!

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A New Approach to Winning Gun Reform

Tucked into the $2 trillion infrastructure plan introduced by President Joe Biden late last week, beneath the roads, bridges, trains, electric vehicles, and job creation that earned all of the headlines, is a $5 billion investment in community gun violence prevention programs. It’s not a huge number compared to many of the outlays in Biden’s plan, but it represents a significant victory and important progress for gun reform activists, who have taken center stage again after the deadly mass shootings last month in Atlanta and Boulder. 

“We were able to bring together a really diverse coalition of voices and did something that the gun violence prevention movement hasn't really done in the past, and that is publicly criticize a president who supports gun reform,” says Igor Volsky, the executive director of the reform group Gun Downs America. “We did that strategically because our sense was that, while this President is certainly personally committed to the issue, it was clear to us that there were just other issues that he was prioritizing. It was important for us to send a clear message to the administration that the movement is gonna be a little bolder than it was in the past.”

A Bloody Stalemate May Be Breaking

A vast majority of Americans support a variety of gun control measures. In one survey last month, 84% of respondents backed universal background checks, including more than 75% of Republicans, and in a large 2019 poll, 77% of Americans were in favor of reviving the ban on semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15. But beyond a 2019 ban on bump stocks and some executive orders by President Obama that tweaked around the edges, federal gun laws have largely stayed the same even as mass shootings have continued to proliferate.

A generation of children have been drilled into hiding under their desks during active shooter drills, public places regularly become makeshift memorials, and we’ve settled into an almost metronomic pattern of mourning. Even as Democrats took over the federal government this winter, gun reform activists felt little hope about getting floor votes on even background checks or a red flag law.

The combination of the two mass shootings and the growing pressure on Senate Democrats to nix the filibuster on priority bills changed that outlook. “Looking at it today, a couple of months later, it's not that it's significantly easier, but I think there's a clearer sense of what a path forward would look like on those issues,” Volsky says. “And that to me feels very encouraging.”

But the path is certainly still complicated by a number of major roadblocks, including gun technology, politics, and culture.

The Obstacles that Remain

While the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle has become the gun of choice for mass murders and made reviving the federal assault weapon ban a top priority, there are other guns to worry about now, too. In the 1980s, most people with handguns still carried revolvers, which were clunky and difficult to reload, thereby inherently limiting the number of rounds that could be fired. By the early 1990s, police departments began adopting semi-automatic handguns, which have now become by far the most popular version on the consumer market. The increase in bullet size, which has largely gone unregulated, has also made handguns more lethal.

Even the most minor proposed regulation is now treated as a red alert situation by the right-wing and its cynical leadership. Not even Trump was given any leeway, as his bump stock ban was greeted by immediate lawsuits that made it all the way to the Supreme Court (which turned the case away). Even as the NRA continues to crumble under the weight of its own financial scandals, guns have become a potent wedge issue for the entire vast right-wing media and political infrastructure, weaponized for their culture war against changes that cannot be avoided.

“If you support gun rights, you are a true American, you are a true conservative, and you’re probably anti-choice and probably the global warming thing is a joke,” Volsky says of their outlook. “The opposition to gun reform really comes from a much broader conservative community than just the five or six million members of the NRA, because it's at the very heart of the conservative movement.”

The volume of that movement often drowns out the support for regulations, making the issue seemingly radioactive. While 13 states controlled by Democrats have expanded gun regulations since the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, for national Democrats, the landslide election losses in 1994 that came after the assault weapons ban (and healthcare reform failure) still sting and have prevented much forward progress. But their inaction comes with consequences, too, as GOP leaders seek to further scramble the logic on the politics of gun control and use it as a wedge issue.

Winning a Culture War Requires Fighting Back

Republicans are desperate to turn the attention away from their catastrophic failures on COVID-19 and rally a base being pulled further to the right by fringe cable broadcasters, Facebook’s wildly uneven algorithm, and Donald Trump’s continued grievances. 

A number of GOP-controlled states have moved forward on further loosening gun laws. In Ohio, Republicans have introduced a new concealed carry law, which includes a provision that would allow any adult over the age of 21 to carry and conceal a deadly weapon without a permit. Permits would be made optional, which is another way of saying they’d be eliminated altogether. 

On Friday, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a significant loosening of gun regulations. The legislation waives a background check requirement for private and unlicensed gun sales and allows people to carry concealed weapons in public without any safety training or permit required.

In Georgia, meanwhile, the fact that a man acquired a gun without a background check and killed eight people at massage parlors in the same day led not to serious reflection on the state’s gun laws, but instead, a push by Republicans to further loosen them. A bill passed by the State Senate creates reciprocity with other states that permit concealed carry, allowing their gun owners to cross state lines while packing heat. It’d also largely strip the government of the ability to seize firearms, prohibit their sale, or refuse or revoke licenses during a state of emergency.

Despite the near-universal popularity for control measures like mandatory background checks, the outrage over these state laws has largely come from gun reform groups, which has also proven frustrating.

“Let me just say one thing about ‘responsible gun owners,’ as we call them: I agree with the general assumption that the overwhelming majority of gun owners in the United States are not these kind of crazed, politically inspired gun owners, who just buy guns to own the left,” Volsky says. “And I'm sure most of them store their guns properly and all that good stuff, but I just don't understand where these people are and why they are allowing the crazies and the NRA to speak for them.”

As with every other issue that costs American lives, from COVID-19 to health care access, the GOP has fully divorced its policy priorities and politics from reality, which means that Democrats are unlikely to get any help at the federal level on even low-level gun reforms. Sens. Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey (R-PA) co-sponsored bipartisan background check legislation in 2013, but even if they can reprise that partnership, there’s no way it’ll garner the 60 votes needed to overcome the filibuster. 

That again leaves it up to Senate Democrats — like Manchin himself — to step up and do the right thing. The House has already passed legislation to strengthen background checks; now, gun reform groups are willing to play a little bit of hardball to get the Senate to pass it.

Even Voting Suppression is Bigger in Texas

Now that Republican legislators in Georgia and Iowa have codified a new round of racist voter suppression laws, the Texas GOP is taking the baton. Early Thursday morning, the Texas State Senate passed SB 7, one of two new bills that would severely curtail the voting rights of Black, brown, and disabled voters.

“We had 13 of 13 Democratic senators united in opposition and repeatedly pointing to evidence and testimony about how this bill would disproportionately impact voters of color and impede their right to vote,” says Rose Clouston, Director of Voter Protection for the Texas Democratic Party, about the debate. “The author of the bill was not interested in taking their amendments. We had over 20 amendments that Democratic senators offered to blunt the impact [on voters of color].”

It is already harder to vote in Texas than it is in any other state, so the two bills are meant to further turn the screws on disenfranchisement. Governor Greg Abbott has called over and over this year for an upgrade in “election integrity” even though he’s been unable to name a single instance of voter fraud. Hours after SB 7 passed, the state House of Representatives held committee hearings on HB 6, which Clouston says is just as pernicious in complementary ways.

No surprise: The House committee is run by state Rep. Briscoe Cain, who was one of Donald Trump’s advisers during his attempt to throw out the 2020 election results.

The provisions in the two bills run the gamut, adding limitations, criminal penalties, and hostility to every step of the voting process. Some of the most obvious suppressive elements are a limit on early voting hours, the end of drive-thru voting, and make it a crime for election administrators to send absentee ballot application request forms without one actually being requested. 

These are all part of an effort to put the final nail in the coffin of emergency election measures taken by counties during the pandemic. Texas Republicans sued to stop both Harris County’s drive-thru voting system and its administrators from sending ballot requests to all registered voters; courts allowed the drive-through voting to continue but squashed the proactive ballot request form mailings. Early voting hours would now be mandated to end at 9 pm and the 24-hour early voting event run by Harris County would be now banned, as well.

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Important News You Need to Know

Here are a few stories from around the country — I deliver longer coverage of more news, keep up on these stories, and publish interviews throughout the week in the issues sent out to premium members!

Voting Rights

Texas: If you thought Texas Republicans were content to simply make it even harder for voters of color to cast their ballots, you haven’t been paying attention to Texas Republicans (lucky you).

In 2018, Democrats made big advances in judicial elections around the state, especially in the Houston area. Those judges played a role in blocking some of the more egregious attempts at voter suppression in 2020, so now, the Texas GOP is plotting on super-sizing and gerrymandering those courts. Doing so would dilute the power of people of color and make it more difficult for Democrats to win crucial judicial elections more generally.

Georgia: As you’ve probably heard, Major League Baseball on Friday pulled its All-Star Game and amateur draft from Atlanta over Georgia Republicans’ racist new voter suppression bill.

Incidentally, this will also hurt Braves’ owner John Malone, the right-wing media mogul and founder of Liberty Media, who won’t cash in on the revenue from the events and the spotlight. The Braves’ ballpark, Truist Park, was built largely by Cobb County, which spent $400 million on the project. It’s also being used by Kelly Loeffler for a kickoff event for her big voter suppression group.

Predictably, Republicans are losing their mind over the decision, which they claim to be a product of the radical left and cancel culture. It’s been funny to watch Republicans demand a boycott on baseball, which is ostensibly calling for the cancelation of America’s Past Time. If they’re really serious about taking a stand against anti-racism, they’re going to have to do a whole lot more boycotting, because while it took a while and a whole lot of public pressure (including from Black executives), corporations are starting to come out strong against Georgia’s horrible racist law.

Delta and Coca-Cola both issued statements on Wednesday decrying the suppression, calling it “unacceptable” and “based on a lie,” among other things. As expected, that sparked a backlash from GOP lawmakers in the legislature, but they ultimately did not pass any revenge taxes or other punitive laws. After all, these are corporations, not people of color — Republicans don’t want to actually hurt them.

And just to underscore how little sympathy these people deserve, state Rep. Park Cannon, the legislator who was arrested and roughed up for knocking on Gov. Brian Kemp’s office door as he signed the voter suppression bill under a painting of a slave plantation, now faces up to eight years in prison for the incident.

Tax Scams

Corporate Shenanigans: To be clear, big corporations do not deserve much applause for sudden performative wokeness. A new investigation released on Friday revealed that thanks to a few clauses in the CARES Act and the Trump tax cuts, more than 50 different major corporations paid $0 in income taxes this year while both profits and executive income soared. Many corporations even made money on taxes this year.

Property Taxes, too: The debate over reinstating the SALT deduction should be done and dusted after this new investigation by the New York Times. TLDR: Expensive properties in more wealthy neighborhoods are being undervalued for tax purposes while smaller houses in less privileged neighborhoods are often overvalued, costing working people and people of color more in taxes.

Civil Rights

Florida: In addition to the GOP’s attack on voting rights, there are two other fierce legislative battles happening in Florida right now. The first is a so-called Parents’ Bill of Rights, which gives parents certain powers over a school district but could put LGBTQ+ kids in danger. It passed the House last week and is now headed to the State Senate.

The second is more positive news: Democrats, led by Sen. Lauren Book, were able to pass the Gay and Transgender Panic Legal Defense Prohibition Act through a key State Senate panel. The bill would end someone’s ability to cite a victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity as a legal defense for engaging in physical violence or other crimes against them. In other words, bigots would no longer be able to claim temporary insanity if they shot an LGBTQ+ person who they perceived as making a pass at them.

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