Is this news?
From one standpoint, yes, of course it’s news for the same reason all of Manchin’s opinions are news. He’s the most influential Joe in Washington!
But gun control isn’t something that can pass via reconciliation, which means he isn’t a swing vote on this one. He’s merely an important 50th vote in the Democrats’ long search for 60.
And since 60 votes to raise the age limit for buying AR-15s to 21 is almost certainly unattainable, I ask again: Is this really news?
Manchin told me that a final deal should include two things: Raising the age to 21 for purchasing semi-automatic weapons and standards for state red flag laws. He’s also open to an assault weapons ban. On people needing AR-15s? “I never felt I needed something of that magnitude.” pic.twitter.com/GYUlx1Nhkp
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) June 6, 2022
Uh, a “high-capacity automatic weapon”? The AR-15 is a semiautomatic, of course.
I’m trying to figure out if it’s good politics or bad politics for him to support raising the age limit. The case that it’s good politics is simple: How can it be that 19-year-olds aren’t mature enough to drink responsibly but are mature enough to handle an extremely deadly firearm responsibly? Relatedly, how can it be that they’re not mature enough to buy a handgun from a federally licensed dealer but are mature enough to buy an AR-15? Combine basic logical incongruities like that with the fact that mass shooters have been trending younger and Manchin has a solid case for raising the limit to 21.
Manchin on Republicans who say raising age to 21 for semi-automatic rifles is unconstitutional.
“Why is there a certain age for everything that we do in this society? It’s always been accepted. I don’t see how this is different than other things we do.” pic.twitter.com/M3vTR4eyWU
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) June 6, 2022
New York just raised its own minimum age to buy an AR-15 to 21 in the wake of the Uvalde massacre.
The argument that it’s bad politics for Manchin to take that position is that, as you may have heard, West Virginia is a bit more conservative than New York is and so he’ll have a hard time defending his support for raising the age to his state’s voters on the campaign trail in 2024. Even weirder is that it’s unlikely to pass: If Manchin knows that a new minimum age isn’t happening, why needlessly invite anger from West Virginians by endorsing one? Maybe he’s calculating that the left hates him enough this point that he needs to throw them a bone every now and then and a gun-control measure that won’t actually pass seems like a safe opportunity. Besides, West Virginia’s Republican governor, Jim Justice, has said that he too favors banning under-21s from buying AR-15s (although he was careful to add that he didn’t think it was worth proposing such a bill to West Virginia’s legislature since it wouldn’t pass). Manchin has cover on his right flank for supporting some new restrictions, in other words.
The “Joe Manchin” of the current Senate gun-control negotiations isn’t Joe Manchin but John Cornyn, who’s acting as Mitch McConnell’s de facto ambassador to Chris Murphy and the Democrats. Cornyn wants to do something for the sake of Doing Something since he represents the state where the Uvalde massacre took place, and lord knows Ted Cruz isn’t going to propose anything serious. But he also knows that he’s an old-school Republican who’s distrusted by the populist base and is sensitive to the perception that he might sell them out:
Not gonna happen https://t.co/dZTmfvBEbz
— Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) June 2, 2022
In an interview with the Times today, he ruled out several proposed restrictions — including a ban on sales of AR-15s to under-21s. Although he did propose a compromise on age:
“It has to be incremental,” Mr. Cornyn said in an interview, quickly dismissing Mr. Biden’s push for steps that could not pass the Senate, such as renewing a federal ban on assault weapons, limiting high-capacity magazines or raising the age to purchase a semiautomatic rifle to 21 from 18…
While suggesting that raising the age to purchase assault weapons would not clear the Senate, Mr. Cornyn said one idea he was exploring with colleagues was whether juvenile records, which are often sealed or expunged, could be added to the information available for a background check. He suggested that such an expansion could have prevented the 18-year-old gunman in Uvalde from obtaining his weapon.
Is it true that the Uvalde shooter had a juvenile record that might have prevented a dealer from selling him a gun? There were rumors to that effect at one point but I thought they had been debunked. I’ve seen reports that the police were frequently called to mediate when he and his mother had screaming matches but I’m unaware of anything happening that would show up on a criminal record.
Anyway, without Cornyn providing cover to nine other Republicans by signing off on a new minimum-age rule, it’s dead in the Senate. And even if it did happen, Democrats have a bigger problem. How would they plan to get such a ban past a Supreme Court with a 6-3 conservative majority? Less than a month ago, two Trump appointees on the Ninth Circuit struck down a state law banning under-21s from buying AR-15s. Ironically, the fact that under-21s can’t buy handguns from federally licensed dealers was cited as an argument for why, constitutionally, they need to be allowed to purchase a more powerful weapon:
That’s the answer to Manchin’s question in the second clip, of course. The reason we have an age-21 limit for things like drinking but not for guns is that there’s no right to drink in the Bill of Rights. In fact, Democrats should probably worry that the chatter about age limits might get SCOTUS to start wondering if under-21s should also have a right to buy handguns from a federally licensed dealer under the Second Amendment.
Exit quotation from an Arkansas legislator, rejecting the idea of raising the minimum age: “If we move to 21 and the shooter is 21, then they’ll want to move to 25.”