The Topline: #2A comes to #MASen

Fundamental questions about Americans' constitutional right to bear arms are roiling the Massachusetts Democratic primary for Senate. After mass shootings, a distressingly common occurrence in American life, the debate typically focuses on incremental changes to the law and which are possible in our polarized politics. 

But after two back-to-back mass shootings this past weekend claimed 31 lives, U.S. Senate candidate Shannon Liss-Riordan went much further, announcing support for a full repeal of the Second Amendment. "I am tired of half steps, old ideas and fake urgency around the problem we face: the presence of guns in our communities," Liss-Riordan said in a statement Tuesday morning. "Enough is enough. It is time we take real action and repeal the Second Amendment."

Liss-Riordan, a Brookline attorney, is running for Senate against incumbent Ed Markey and businessman Steve Pemberton. In response, Pemberton told the State House News Service that Liss-Riordan's stance "misses the urgency of the moment" because repealing the Second Amendment would take years to accomplish. Both Markey and Pemberton have advocated for background checks and assault weapons bans.

It's these more incremental gun control measures that receive significantly more support across the country. According to a Quinnipiac poll released this May, 94% of American voters support requiring background checks for all gun buyers. But even more dramatic steps still earn a majority support. Nearly two-thirds (63%) support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons. Only 17% in that poll support repealing the Second Amendment altogether.

Liss-Riordan's call for a constitutional amendment is a tough sell even in deep-blue Massachusetts. In March 2018, in the wake of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a WBUR poll found only 28% of Massachusetts voters support repealing the Second Amendment. Support is slightly higher among Democrats but only reaches 37% in Massachusetts (33% in the Quinnipiac national study).


 With poll numbers like these, it's hard to see a Second Amendment repeal happening on the immediate horizon. These numbers are from past polls, and we will have to wait several more days to see if new events have moved public opinion. For now, though, many other gun control measures earn strong majority support and hold the potential to succeed if given a vote in the Senate. 

One that has entered the national conversation this week is a federal red flag law, or an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO). Such a law would allow families, law enforcement or other third parties to ask a court to temporarily remove firearms from someone who they believe is capable of harm. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have some kind of ERPO law on the books. This includes Massachusetts, which passed a red flag law last July, five months after the Parkland shootings, and thanks in no small part to student activism

Past polling suggests a federal ERPO law would be popular. An April 2018 ABC/Washington Post poll found 85% national support for red flag laws. Republicans seem to be warming to the idea, although Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said passing a red flag law alone would be "an ineffective cop out." Schumer said Democrats would try to link a vote on ERPO to background checks legislation passed by the House of Representatives earlier this year. 

His counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, told a Kentucky radio station that both he and Trump are interested in passing legislation, and that background checks, red flag laws and an assault weapons ban will be discussed in the Senate. But McConnell said he would not bring the Senate back from its August recess, leading some to question whether he's trying to run out the clock. Indeed, public support for gun control tends to rise and then fall after each mass shooting. We'll have to see if new polling follows a similar pattern, or if the signals of support from lawmakers buoy support -- or rile up opposition.

If Congress ends up passing anything, it would amount to the most significant gun control law enacted in 20 years. This may be the moment: both red flag laws and background checks are widely popular, and the National Rifle Association could be sidelined by its own internal controversy. But as history shows us time and again, widespread support for a bill does not ensure its passing into law, especially when it comes to guns. And with Congress in recess until September, the nation may have to wait until the next tragedy to see legislative action.

— Libby Gormley and Rich Parr


This week on The Horse Race, we have big news. We present our new co-host, Politico Reporter and BFF of the Pod, Stephanie Murray! Stay tuned as she delivers the inside scoop and the latest updates on Massachusetts elections.

In honor of Ballot Question Filing Day, this week's episode features a conversation about the initiative petitions filed for this election cycle. George Cronin, public affairs managing director at Rasky Partners, points out which to watch.

Then, Kasia Hart and Tim Reardon of MAPC stop by to talk parking. It's a hot commodity in Boston, but, as it turns out, there are a bunch of empty spaces that go unused. So, is building more parking really the answer?

Finally, according to the U.S. Government Publishing Office's style guide, the name used to describe residents of the Commonwealth is "Massachusettsan." Under Massachusetts law, however, the title is Bay Stater. If it were up to YOU, what would we be called? Send you answer and reasoning to and we'll read your pick on next week's show.


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