New report blames gerrymandering for stalled gun-safety bills

By: - December 16, 2019 5:41 pm

Demonstrators gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford, Wisconsin’s gerrymandering case. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Most Wisconsinites favor stricter gun laws, recent polling suggests, but efforts to advance gun safety legislation have languished in the state legislature. 

That disconnect is likely due in part to partisan gerrymandering, according to a report released Tuesday by the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that advocates progressive policies. 

The analysis looks at gerrymandering in five states, including Wisconsin, where Democrats won the majority of statewide votes, but Republicans maintained control over the state legislatures. Conservative politicians in those states have “refused to allow a meaningful debate on any commonsense gun safety measures,” according to the report’s authors. The paper also looks at Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan and Virginia.

“In each of these states, it is likely that, in the absence of partisan gerrymandering, the legislature would have enacted measures to strengthen gun laws — measures that could have saved lives,” the paper says. 

Eric Holder, former attorney general under the Obama administration, said in a statement that the CAP report makes clear that “partisan gerrymandering that locks in power for one party makes politicians more likely to cater to the special interests who fund their campaigns than the people they should represent.” 

Holder, who is now chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, added, “Finally ending gerrymandering when new maps are drawn in 2021 can be the key that unlocks progress on legislation supported by the vast majority of the American people to reduce gun violence.”

In Wisconsin’s 2018 elections, Republican candidates received less than half of the total major-party votes for state House and Senate (48.4 percent) while receiving far more than half of the total seats (62.9%), the CAP analysis shows. 

Wisconsin was ranked No. 2 in a September report by the University of Southern California Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy, which ranked the “worst U.S. state legislative partisan gerrymanders.”

Gerrymandering and “other anti-democratic practices may have artificially kept Republicans in control of the Wisconsin Legislature,” the CAP authors wrote. “This represents a significant missed opportunity to advance gun policy.”  

The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gave Wisconsin a “C-” on its annual scorecard that grades state gun laws. The state ranked 18th out of 50 for the strength of its gun laws, according to the Giffords survey. 

Gun safety advocates in the state have pushed for expanded background checks and for “red flag” laws, which would give courts the authority to temporarily remove firearms from people deemed threats to themselves or others. 

Recent polling from the Marquette University Law School poll found that around 80% of Wisconsin voters back a universal background check law, with similar levels of support for red-flag laws also known as Extreme Risk Protection Orders. 

Background check legislation and an ERPO bill have been introduced in both chambers of the Wisconsin legislature but have stalled there, and Evers’ special session on gun control was gaveled in and out in seconds in both houses with no action. 

The authors of the CAP report advanced what they called a “relatively simple solution” to end partisan gerrymandering: “Do not let politicians draw their own districts and require districts to represent the views of the public as accurately as possible.”

They suggest that states use independent commissions to draw districts, and to create voter-determined districts. 

For instance, the authors wrote, “if 55% of voters support a particular party, that party should receive as close as possible to 55% of the seats. When districts are fair, more votes generally means more seats.”

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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.