Last week, we learned that a Michigan Republican lawmaker had lost an assistant U.S. Education secretary post over several outré blog posts, including one that called for throwing all Muslims on the no-fly list for terrorists.
There’s some irony that this First Amendment-chucking proposal from Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw) cost him a key slot with the Trump administration, which has proposed several variations of travel ban targeting Muslims.
Kelly followed the playbook of Republicans in the Trump era, bemoaning that he’d been thwarted by the “toxicity of the swamp.” He also argued that he was a “conservative Republican with opinions” that “don’t match those of the left,” which is a bit strange considering that his candidacy was rejected by uber-conservative Ed Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Interestingly, the Kelly news broke just as the no-fly list was back in the news in Michigan.
A majority of Republican senators had just voted against banning those on the no-fly list from being able to get a concealed pistol license (CPL), which flies in the face of the GOP’s usual get-tough-on-terrorists stance.
It’s also an awful position for lawmakers to defend in next year’s election. Now many senators are term-limited, but you can bet that Democrats will be pushing Republicans up and down the ballot whether they support “guns for terrorists.”
Democrats often have a problem distilling their issues and attacks into easy-to-remember soundbites. GOP messaging guru Frank Luntz, who has a history of advising Michigan Republicans, is a master of this. He’s won the rhetorical framing war on host of political topics, most famously rebranding the estate tax that affects only .2 percent of Americans as the menacing “death tax,” which many mistakenly believe they’ll have to pay, as none of us is getting out of here alive.
But Democrats have a tailor-made issue with the no-fly list loophole.
Sen. Curtis Hertel (D-Meridian Twp.), who helps run the Senate Dems’ campaign effort, gave us a nice preview of the 2018 ads to come with this quip after the vote: “If you’re too dangerous to board a plane, you’re too dangerous to have a CPL.”
The Republican majority also voted against banning people with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from obtaining CPLs. Just a few days before, Devin Patrick Kelley allegedly shot and killed 26 people during a Texas church service. He had a long history of domestic violence against his wife and stepson, fracturing his skull. And still, Kelley was able to obtain the AR-15 he used to slaughter people as they prayed.
Just a few months earlier, James Hodgkinson allegedly shot up a GOP congressional baseball practice, injuring Michigan native Matt Mika and U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.). Hodgkinson had a history of beating his daughter and other young women.
Many mass murderers share a similar background. There’s ample research that a history of domestic abuse is a key factor in violent recidivism. But Michigan Republicans refused to take a basic step to keep guns out of the hands of those who have beaten and abused those closest to them.
And they voted against stopping sex offenders from being able to get CPLs. That was also pretty timely with the Washington Post breaking a story that former Judge Roy Moore, the GOP Alabama U.S. Senate nominee, had allegedly sexually abused four teenage girls when he was in his 30s. Moore has denied molesting girls, but wouldn’t rule out having dated teenagers during that time.
These gun policies are terrible. And the politics are just as bad. So why would Republicans take these votes?
Because their top priority before before dashing out of town for their two-week “hunting break” was passing legislation allowing people with CPLs to carry concealed weapons in gun-free zones like schools, churches, daycares, sports stadiums, college dorms and bars.
If you’re not crazy about people packing heat where your kids go to learn their ABCs or while downing a fifth of bourbon and getting riled up over the Lions game at your favorite tavern, you’re not alone. Almost 60 percent of Michigan voters agreed with you in the most recent polling from EPIC-MRA in October 2015.
But apparently Republicans decided they wouldn’t even attempt to make unpopular legislation slightly more palatable. And so they soundly rejected Democratic amendments to stop people on the no-fly list, domestic abusers and sex offenders from getting concealed weapon permits.
That decision probably made NRA lobbyists proud. But it could end up backfiring big time in 2018.
Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.