Can someone explain why Texas Republicans are still talking about gun control?

Everywhere but Texas, the tide has turned in favor of gun rights. Amidst Beto’s gun confiscation threat and Democratic impeachment efforts, President Trump and congressional Republicans have quietly abandoned the prospect of a gun-control compromise

Whether this was the result of a politically deft maneuver to parry the Democrats’ latest assault on the Second Amendment or sheer fortune, the gun-control issue has slipped into the background of the national news cycle. 

Our neighbor to the north, Oklahoma, just became the 15th state to implement permitless carry, the Texas Republican Party’s top legislative priority. This means you can now leave Texas and travel to Canada without ever passing through a state that does not have permitless carry.

But while Republicans elsewhere are seeing success in defending and expanding gun rights, Texas stands in stark contrast.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick recently concluded a statewide tour of conservative talk radio shows, of all places, to push a gun-control plan that incorporates two-thirds of Bernie Sanders’ platform.  Our state’s Republican-controlled House and Senate are in the process of holding at least 11 hearings to explore new gun-control proposals, giving Democrats and the media a regular platform to grandstand in swing districts that are in play for 2020 and keep the gun-control push prominently in the media through the new year.  

This is the exact opposite of controlling the narrative. It has kept gun control front-page news in Texas long after it has moved to the back page elsewhere and caused disunity at a time when it is sorely needed to deliver the most important GOP state in the 2020 presidential election. Republican leaders flirting with new gun-control laws after a purple legislative session has depressed enthusiasm among their volunteer base and forced grassroots’ efforts to be redirected against their own party leaders, rather than taking the fight to Democrats.

Perhaps most depressing is the lack of leadership from our legislators. Except for some notable exceptions like State Sen. Bob Hall (R–Edgewood), State Rep. Matt Schaefer (R–Tyler), and a few others, lawmakers have been reluctant to challenge leadership with any clarity. Instead, the public has only seen vague messages of support for the Second Amendment and attacks on Beto, intended to deflect criticism on the issue without having to take an uncomfortable public position of opposing Abbott or Patrick. 

The looming question remains: To whom are Patrick and Abbott trying to appeal? The moderate middle?

Perhaps our leaders should read the insightful piece on Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, “The Moderate Middle is a Myth,” which confirms what many of us already know—“[a]nybody who claims to have the winning formula for winning moderate, independent, or undecided voters is making things up.” 

These voters do not micromanage issues or follow policy all that closely. “Extreme” policies appeal to these voters as much as “centrist” ones. These voters want solutions to everyday problems, but they do not necessarily have passionate opinions as to how government should go about it. Their vote is likely to be decided by last-minute events—not legislative hearings held a year before the election.

We see the uncertainly among this group in the polls, which Patrick has cited as a primary reason for his universal background-check push. Gallop results show huge variances in polls on gun policy, depending on how the question is approached.  

In recent polls, while 92 percent said they wanted background checks for all gun sales, 53 percent wanted gun laws to be less strict or kept the same. Only 46 percent supported increased regulation. There is simply no consistency in the results from which one can conclude that the public is overwhelmingly demanding new gun laws. 

If there is no moderate middle or a strong demand for gun control, it is political suicide to suck all the air out of the room with a message most Republicans hate.

Republicans must pursue an exit strategy on their ill-advised gun-control push, and fast. Take control of the narrative and make outlawing private sales and civil liability for gun owners go the way of the governor’s previous proposals on red-flag laws and gun storage requirements.

Patrick can abandon the issue by abruptly declaring victory like he has on other legislation in the past. Grassroots Republicans need a clear and unequivocal statement that their Second Amendment rights are no longer being threatened.

Our GOP leaders need to disband the special legislative committees and focus on uniting our base for 2020. The GOP gun-control roadshow in Texas needs to end.

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Matt Rinaldi

Matt Rinaldi is the general counsel for a Texas healthcare company, director for a publicly traded hotel and hospitality company, and was a Texas state representative representing northwest Dallas County from 2015-19. He graduated with honors from both Boston University School of Law and James Madison University, with a degree in economics.