The Real Reason We Won't Get New Gun Laws

Some of my friends have wondered why I bothered to write and post an article in HuffPost this week about reforming Congress. It's because I look at the big picture, the structural problems, in our government right now. It's not sexy and it doesn't get a lot of attention. But my training as a political scientist made me aware that there are always two sets of problems in governance: the ones that are a result of an event or new development, and the ones that are structural. This week we got yet another lesson in why this shouldn't be an academic debate, why the structural flaws in our governance matter. The gun control debate runs up against the big structural flaws in our politics over and over again.

Why is it that all the calls for new gun laws do nothing? National polling says we want gun control, but national will doesn't mean anything in the House of Reps. Members of the House only care about what their voters want. Liberals are clustered in cities and other areas where they already have a member of Congress who supports gun control. All those organizations urging you to "call your member of Congress" run up against this: chances are, if you are for gun control, your member of Congress already is for it, too. National petitions don't do anything. The only way short of a Constitutional re-design of the House is a massive turn out by liberals and a massive lack of turn out by conservatives happening at the same time, leading to a change in the majority in the House. I can't imagine a scenario where that would take place, short of a massive imploding of the Republican party.

The Republican party has moved systematically to control the House of Representatives by a national strategy of taking over majorities in state legislatures, Every ten years, by constitutional design, state legislatures get to redraw the maps of House districts. Whoever controls the drawing, controls the likely outcome of congressional elections just by gerrymander. This is not a secret. It has worked spectacularly well. So even if voter turnout shifts toward the Democrats, most analysts agree Republicans will maintain their control over the House. There are a tiny number of House districts that are considered "swing districts", likely to be run by politicians from either party. The rest are locked down in their partisan configurations.

It doesn't matter who's President now. If Bernie Sanders won tomorrow, there would be no revolution. Laws have to pass through the House of Representatives, and unless the Republican party shatters into factions, with moderate Republicans joining Democrats in a Grand Coalition for the good of the nation, we are going to have national will stifled again and again and again.