Abortion Is Remaking Our Political Landscape. Why Aren’t Guns?

Why don’t we talk more about guns?

Not that the issue doesn’t come up. But think about the public debate on gun control versus the one we’re having on abortion rights. Perhaps the two biggest long-running social issues in American politics, and the gulf does seem huge.

A lot of politicians who were historically opposed to abortion have clearly gotten very nervous about public opinion, worrying that being anti-choice is costing them votes. Take Arizona’s Kari Lake, one of the Republican Party’s most famous crazy-person candidates, now running for a Senate nomination. In 2022 when she was trying to get elected governor, she was a big fan of her state’s ancient ban on virtually all abortions (“a great law”).

But like many, many ambitious pols, Lake noticed that the public — even much of the conservative public — didn’t like seeing politicians mess with a woman’s right to control what happens with her own body. When a state Supreme Court suddenly upheld that Arizona abortion ban, circa 1864, Lake said that the old law was indeed “out of line with where the people of this state are.” Then she tried to drown the debate with a mystery statement. (“I chose life, but I’m not every woman. I want to make sure that every woman who finds herself pregnant has more choices so that she can make that choice that I made.”)

Got that?

Of course, if we’re talking about folks who are principle-free, there’s always Donald Trump. Our former president felt the pro-abortion-rights winds blowing when, after the Supreme Court majority he brags about creating declared abortion wasn’t a constitutional right, his party did worse than expected in the next House elections. Hoping to dump the problem on the governors, he embraced the theory that abortion was a state issue.

But when it comes to guns, Trump clearly hasn’t seen any need to search for a pseudo-middle ground. He recently attended an N.R.A. gathering in Pennsylvania, where he assured his audience that “every single Biden attack on gun owners and manufacturers will be terminated on my very first week back in office, perhaps my first day.”

Now, the idea of making abortion a state issue only works if you’re just looking for a make-believe answer that might let you escape from discussing the subject. But we don’t have a visible gun consensus. Even mass school shooting tragedies like Sandy Hook and Uvalde didn’t bring the debate to a head. Many, many politicians are still trying to protect the right of Americans to own weapons while giving at least some verbal deference to the right of everybody else not to be shot.

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