Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific Standard, GOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
An intriguing theory about the geography of the "middle ground" on guns.
Democrats in Congress looking for a Republican to work with on gun legislation first tried Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn (a regular member of bipartisan "gangs" of various kinds). That strategy, though, may have been done in by geography. As the Washington Post points out today, gun advocates in Coburn's largely rural state balked at potential new background check legislation. Even if Coburn had been inclined toward compromise, his rural state – where gun ownership and NRA sympathies run high – was not.
More recently, Democrats appear to have found a different source of bipartisan support for significant new gun control: otherwise right-leaning politicians who represent suburban constituents. Lawmakers from Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Virginia have recently warmed to new gun legislation. As Philip Rucker and Paul Kane propose in the Washington Post:
The shift underscores a new reality of gun politics in America: The rapid growth of suburbs in historically gun-friendly states is forcing politicians to cater to the more centrist and pragmatic views of voters in subdivisions and cul-de-sacs as well as to constituents in shrinking rural hamlets where gun ownership is more of a way of life.
The growing political influence of the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh suburbs in particular may have something to do with Republican Sen. Patrick Toomey's sudden involvement in forging a compromise. Something similar is happening in the rapidly expanding suburbs of Virginia, a state where politics are dramatically different in the Blue Ridge than they are in the D.C. suburbs (the NRA's national office also happens to be located right in the heart of the Northern Virginia suburbs). In gun-friendly Georgia, Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns is betting on pro-gun control TV ads airing in the Atlanta region.
Rucker and Kane again:
Unlike every other debate that has unfolded recently in a bitterly divided Washington, the gun debate is much more about geography than party. The dividing lines are not between Democrats and Republicans, but between rural lawmakers and those who must cater to urban and suburban constituencies.
This means we could also see a few Democrats from rural states bail on gun legislation. But everything we learned from the last election suggests that the collective influence of metro America could be enough to influence outcomes in Washington.