America’s dysfunctional democracy

On guns, as on so many other issues, politicians are completely out of step with the public.

Wendy Kaminer

Topics Politics USA

Apart from a more or less common language, the US and UK share a distressing trend – the decline of democracy and justifiable popular frustration with politics. You don’t need a think-tank to tell you as much, but it’s worth noting that a 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center found similar rates of dissatisfaction with democracy in both countries: 58 per cent of American respondents and 55 per cent of respondents in Britain had ‘decidedly negative views’ about the health of their democracies. These percentages seem remarkably low considering parliament’s voter-defiant paralysis over Brexit and the lawlessness, chaos and corruption of the Trump Show. But the Pew survey is over a year old; rates of dissatisfaction, if not disgust, should be higher in both countries today, although in the US a lot of people are simply worn out by daily outrages.

But fear and fury, more than weariness, mark the predominant public response to the horrifyingly predictable series of mass shootings and the failure of politicians to enact what many agree are reasonable gun regulations. An unusually strong majority of Americans (89 per cent) support expanded background checks for public and private gun sales; 86 per cent support ‘red flag’ laws allowing seizures of guns from people found by a court to be dangerous. The Democratic-controlled House has passed a strong background-check bill, but Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has refused to allow a Senate vote on it. He’s waiting for permission from the president, who’s waiting for permission from the NRA and, perhaps, his pollsters, or his id.

The irrelevance of public opinion to public officials is surely one sign of democracy’s decline. But even in our dysfunctional system, the unusually strong bipartisan consensus in favour of regulating gun ownership (at a time of extreme polarisation), may yet produce some legislative results: around eight in 10 Republicans and gun-owning households support background checks. Red-flag laws enjoy bipartisan support in the Senate, as Republican senator Marco Rubio argued in a New York Times op-ed. Corporate America is also beginning to speak out in favour of gun-safety regulations. The CEOs of 145 companies have sent a letter to the Senate calling for action on background checks; Walmart has asked customers not to carry guns in its stores. All things considered, Trump may okay some modest gun laws, and McConnell may allow the Senate to pass them. But gun-safety advocates should hesitate to allow hope to prevail over experience.

How do we account for the chasm between public opinion and political action on guns? For years it has reflected, in part, the political and financial power of the NRA, which is perhaps beginning to wane. But it’s also a testament to the anti-democratic nature of the US Senate, where conservative Republican, red-state voters enjoy greatly disproportionate representation. Wyoming, for example, with a population of about 600,000, elects two Senators, just like California – population of about 40million. The Senate enacts laws and appoints judges governing the entire country, but it often favours the opinions of a small segment of it (which is why federal courts are increasingly hostile to abortion rights). Passage of new gun regulations may depend on the support of conservative, rural gun owners, or at least their diminished opposition.

How stable is the bipartisan consensus on guns? Democrats calling for more controversial measures, like bans on sales of assault weapons and buy-back programmes, will find out. Opposition to what many might consider reasonable gun regulations has long been fuelled by fears that they represent initial steps in a punitive campaign to limit or even prohibit gun ownership. Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke threatens to make those fears come true. Responding to a mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso, he has unequivocally called for the confiscation of assault weapons, to the applause of many in the Democratic base.

Absent another political earthquake, O’Rourke will not be the Democratic nominee, and, in any event, neither the president nor Congress has the constitutional power to confiscate guns. A ban on assault weapons could conceivably pass muster under the Second Amendment, but Fourth Amendment freedoms from unreasonable searches and seizures would and surely should bar law-enforcement officials from barging into private homes looking for weapons to confiscate. So, O’Rourke will not succeed in seizing assault weapons, but he could manage to lessen bipartisan support for new gun laws. The NRA should send him a thank-you note. Public opinion has to be exceptionally strong and united to prevail in our weak and divided democracy.

Wendy Kaminer is an author, a lawyer and a former national board member of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Picture by: Getty.

Get spiked in your inbox

The week
on spiked

Your weekly round-up
of spiked opinion, 
every Friday

from spiked

Essays, profiles and
in-depth features, every Sunday

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Neil John

22nd September 2019 at 8:58 am

Interestingly the woman grabbing PM of Canada is so desperate to get reelected he’s promised a major gun grab if reelected. The globalists won’t ever stop trying to disarm the plebs and city dwellers with police an call minutes away don’t understand that rural living means when seconds count help is hours if not days away.

Chloe Tzang

21st September 2019 at 2:39 am

Two words. Second Amendment. Two more. Molon Labe.

And a few more. It’s there to protect is against fascists like Wendy Kaminer. And Wendy, do read up on the Constitution. Each State has two Senators, and two Senators only, for the very reason you criticize. It prevents States with larger populations dominating the US political system. If you want Constitutional changes (hint – like changes to, you know, that pesky 2nd Amendment that’s there to, you know, let us overthrow tyrannical governments by violence, you know, like that American Revolution thing), you need to persuade those people in other States. You know, the smaller ones. With the people you don’t like because they believe in the Constitution, limiting Government and following the law. And the right to bear arms (hint: NOT for hunting).

Why would you want to take away our guns? So we can emulate Venezuela or Hong Kong, where the people are powerless against their tyrannical rulers.

H McLean

19th September 2019 at 1:17 am

“…the lawlessness, chaos and corruption of the Trump Show…” Yep, you couldn’t resist poisoning the well in the very first paragraph. Sure, there’s a lot to criticise on both sides of the political but this article smacks of partisan hackery. I expect better from Spiked.

nick hunt

19th September 2019 at 1:08 am

With totally unsupported, sneering smears yet again (this time ‘the lawlessness, chaos and corruption of the Trump Show’), Wendy Kaminer agains hows her colours as Spiked’s most bigoted contributor. I’ve yet to see her say anything positive or fair about Trump. But in this piece she also conflates massive public dissatisfaction about ‘dysfunctional democracy’ (no explanations about why that should be) with the popular desire to have more effective gun controls in the USA. Talk about not seeing the elephant in the room! Millions voted for Trump the businessman precisely because he was not part of the hated DC establishment or swamp people hope he will be able to drain. Does Wendy really not remember that small detail? What’s more, Trump is keeping his word on policy promises made to the voters, precisely as honest democratic politicians are supposed to do. That keeps him hugely popular while exposing our ‘representatives’ as cowardly, lying, bigoted, corrupt failures. Trump and KAG 2020, without a shadow of a doubt

Enver Hoxha

18th September 2019 at 4:42 pm

We already have background checks for all sales except between relatives and personal friends. And red-flag laws sound great until we consider that they deprive a person of a constitutional right without recourse to legal defense. Guilty until proven innocent, so to say.

Hana Jinks

18th September 2019 at 3:45 pm

Jerry Oven-Kraut.

Kill girls watch…

Ven Oods

18th September 2019 at 2:36 pm

There are a lot of gun deaths in the US, and a lot of guns ..
Whatever the rights and wrongs, it would be a Herculean task to rid America of most of the weapons already in existence. (And a brave politician who made the attempt.)

Jonathan Swift

21st September 2019 at 3:00 am

If guns are the problem, then how does anyone get out of a guns how alive?

How do background checks on good people stop bad people from stealing a gun and using it?

A widow, who has known me and my wife for a quarter century, recently gave me 4 of her late husband’s rifles, as a thank you for all the work I’ve done for her because she was a friend of my wife’s. What would be the benefit of her having to do a background check on me? She already know I am a nice guy that doesn’t go around shooting people!

Jonathan Swift

21st September 2019 at 3:03 am

If guns are the problem, then how does anyone get out of a gun show alive?

Autocorrect is to blame!

brent mckeon

18th September 2019 at 9:54 am

By far the highest number of gun deaths, daily, are by Blacks with illegal guns in the ghettos. How come no one is demanding that these guns (mostly hand guns not assault weapons) not be taken away. Oops sorry forget these people by a +- margin of 90% vote Dem so must be left alone, Blacks killing Blacks is not a serious crime. .

Jerry Owen

18th September 2019 at 11:51 pm

Ditto here in Khan’s London !

Amin Readh

19th September 2019 at 7:46 am

@ Jerry Owen

So why don’t you bang on about how you are anti- stop and search and these kids should be allowed to carry knives because it is a basic right?

Oh yeah! You couldn’t think yourself out of a paper bag…

Jim Lawrie

18th September 2019 at 9:26 am

An opinion poll to support any viewpoint is easily commissioned. The one that matters most takes place every 4 years in the USA, at the polling stations. Articles like the above indicate that the writer has accepted that her beloved Democrats don’t look like winning the next one. Dry yir eyes.

Jim Lawrie

18th September 2019 at 9:21 am

” … allowing seizures of guns from people found by a court to be dangerous.” Convicted criminals are not allowed guns, so who extra does does that demand cover? Is there an intersectionality between the dangerous and the deplorable? Or an overlap, as it used to be called?
Is this meant to cover pre-criminals, you know, those types that you can tell just from the way they walk,talk, dress, diet, musical preferences, interior decor, voting habits etc … have to be nipped in the bud? Are there 17.4 million of them in the UK? Who thankfully don’t have access to guns, but who have to live with immigrant criminals in their midst wo do carry and use guns and knives?

Where did you retire to Ms Kaminer? Had you the wherewithal to move to a white area?

If guns were allowed here in the UK, I and millions of others would have them. Instead, in vast swathes of our cities, the streets are deserted after dark.

You’re short of Albanians over in the US, Ms Kaminer. Would you like us to send you some?

Travis Hollibaugh

18th September 2019 at 8:36 am

I (generally) love this website; nearly every article on here is a fiery pro-democracy power-to-the-people screed I can get behind. If I see Brendan O’Neill’s name on an article, I’m clicking it regardless of the topic. Wendy Kaminer, meanwhile, exemplifies the uselessness of the modern ACLU.

“The ACLU: Defending your constitutional rights…except for the second one.”

America’s once-sterling rights have been slowly decaying for decades now; the fourth amendment is effectively dead, the sixth amendment has been hollowed out by civil forfeiture and all other manner of due process avoidance, and the tenth amendment has been smothered by abuse of creative “interstate commerce” rulings. What does illustrious Civil Liberties defender Wendy Kaminer say when confronted when this stark reality?

“Hey, as long as we’re getting rid of other rights, let’s get rid of one of the most important ones!”

Absolutely pathetic. Defending yourself, your loved ones, and your property, WITHOUT crossing your fingers and hoping an agent of the state arrives in time, is one of the strongest concepts of individual empowerment ever conceived. Wendy Kaminer has shown her true colors (or colours, if you prefer) as a capital-s Statist. Frankly, it wouldn’t even surprise me if she were a Remainer. Do the right thing and toss her insipid schlock off of this otherwise excellent site.

Amin Readh

18th September 2019 at 4:53 pm

@ Travis Hollibaugh

Nope. You come here to be in the echo chamber. And any dissenting voice is kryptonite to utter snowflakes like you. Of course you want her gone. For you are pro-free speech. And to think people like you can hold a un. Frightening.

“Defending yourself, your loved ones, and your property, WITHOUT crossing your fingers and hoping an agent of the state arrives in time, is one of the strongest concepts of individual empowerment ever conceived.”

Utter BS. Any sane country without guns is more lawful and peaceful and far less crime ridden than US. Protecting yourself and having dangerous weapons about are two differnt things.

Travis Hollibaugh

18th September 2019 at 10:22 pm

I see nobody else in the comments section has replied to any of your bait, but fuck it, I’ve got some free time.

#1: If this place is such an echo chamber (with the exception of Wendy Kaminer), why are you even here? Do you squirm in agony every time you read a pro-leave article? Do you screech in pain every time Brendan makes a full-throated defense of individual rights?

#2: Which sane countries without weapons? Hong Kong? I bet they’d love some weapons right about now. Turns out an armed citizenry is a pretty effective last resort against tyranny. How about Venezuela? They’ve got some of the world’s strongest gun laws. How about the good ‘ol U.K.? Hope the police show up in time to save you from being stabbed. You may not be able to defend yourself, but don’t worry, they’ve got quick(ish) response times!

H McLean

19th September 2019 at 2:02 am

Dissenting voices are always welcome but the argument should be incisive and clear with convincing, good-faith reasoning that isn’t afraid to examine and challenge all sides of the issue. This article doesn’t reach that standard.

Amin Readh

19th September 2019 at 7:44 am

@ H McLean

In other words dissenting voices are welcome as long as they agree with you. Good grief! You are a complete hypocrite. On next article you will be giving it large about free speech knowing full well you don’t believe in it.

As for the article, if you had problems with you would have been able to verbalise one of them. What you really have problem with is that it tells a few home truth you don’t like hearing.

Why not ignore all the lies and corruption of Trump and pretend he is a great President. For he is sticking one to the left!

H McLean

19th September 2019 at 8:59 am

If you can’t at least try to be grown up in your comments then maybe The Hill is more your style of cesspit commenting forum. It’s got lots of limited thinking, blatant projection and childish insults, just like your comments.

Jerry Owen

18th September 2019 at 11:56 pm

Wendy Kaminer is the worst contributor here. She mis quotes Trump deliberately time and time again.. it amazes me Spiked allow her to contribute her clearly cry baby politics that lack any solid factual foundation’s.

Dyler Turdan

18th September 2019 at 8:00 am

“lawlessness, chaos and corruption of the Trump” more Trump Derangement syndrome, this person needs help..very sad 😢

Stephen J

18th September 2019 at 8:10 am

Indeed, Spiked do not understand him yet. He is spearheading the revolution against the globalists, as is Nigel Farage in the UK.

The problem for Nigel is that he could not find an organisation (party) that is free enough of corruption to advance genuine democracy, so he had to create his own.

Democracy has been under deadly attack for the last fifty years, and any successes that the opposition has are not due to their inherent brilliance, but rather to do with politician’s desire to accept as gospel, the concept that bigger is better.

People clearly do not agree with these pipsqueak politicians and media folk, who mostly understand that our concerns are much closer to home than the pursuit of world domination. So we get people like Trump, who for all his imperfections are trying, Like Thatcher and Reagan before to reduce the hideous power of isms.

Amin Readh

18th September 2019 at 4:42 pm

@ Stephen J

Trump’s corruption is rather obvious. Everyone knows it. You do too. But you simply do not care. For he is taking of these “isms”.

Jerry Owen

18th September 2019 at 7:46 am

At least Kaminer didn’t repeat her lie that Trump thinks some neo Nazis are very fine people!
A weak pointless article .
Trump is duly elected. The reason the polls apparently show a lack of trust is of course the whingy whiners that simply cannot accept Trump is the rightful President.
Trump hasn’t corrupted the courts like we have allowed here.
Americans still have freedom of speech unlike here.
America is still ‘ the land of the free’.

Jim Lawrie

18th September 2019 at 12:00 pm

The Trump Presidency, she describes as the Trump show. A condescending reference to his successful TV career. She cannot abide his successes and his wealth.
The left have always craved others’ money which they think would be so much better appreciated by themselves, and then set about appropriating it. Mention tax cuts in their presence and you see real dog whistle politics.

Amin Readh

18th September 2019 at 2:52 pm

@ Jerry Owen

“At least Kaminer didn’t repeat her lie that Trump thinks some neo Nazis are very fine people!”

Even Trump thinks Trump isn’t the rightful president. Based on the fact that he lost by 2 million votes and he thinks EC is fraudulent.

Lol! You are but completely useless!

Hana Jinks

18th September 2019 at 3:21 pm

Jerry Oven-Kraut.

Your reputation is shit in this town.

Jinx Fogle

18th September 2019 at 7:21 am

One last thing, the Supreme court made it clear that guns are a right that preceded the constitution therefore are not capable of being denied.

Amin Readh

18th September 2019 at 2:54 pm

Why not? Who says so? Constitution was written around 1787. Why can’t it be updated or changed?

Jinx Fogle

18th September 2019 at 7:11 am

She is a democrat whimper who still doesn’t understand no one wanted Hillary and if Trump were vindictive Hillary would be imprisoned. TRUMP IS THE DULY ELECTED PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES PERIOD. I have guns and my friends own guns. I went to visit a high school pal who lives in New York. At a dinner in my honor a person said,”I don’t know anyone who owns a gun, do you?”. I told them I don’t know anyone who DOESN’T own many firearms. It’s us against them. The people who want to control your life and us that just want to be left alone.

Amin Readh

18th September 2019 at 3:03 pm

@ Jinx Fogle

So why did she win the Popular Vote by about 2 million if no one wanted her?

“and if Trump were vindictive Hillary would be imprisoned. ”

Nope. If he had the power. He doesn’t.

*was not were.

People like you should not have guns. Period

Jonathan Swift

21st September 2019 at 3:14 am

There is no such thing as “the Popular Vote” in Presidential Elections. The only vote that matters is the Electoral College vote. The Electoral College was created to prevent corruption in on State from having a disproportionate effect on the election. In fact some places reported more votes than living adult residents and it did not affect the outcome.

David Webb

18th September 2019 at 1:38 am

You know, I didn’t know what Wendy was going to write here. When I saw the title, I presumed she meant that most Americans supported gun rights, and yet the politicians kept trying to grab the guns. Now, on reading the article, she’s shilling for a gun grab, so that the state creates a monopoly on lethal force for itself… She’s clearly a Democrat who thinks the Trump election was just morally wrong. Or something. It’s fine to say there should be some checks – people who are criminals or genuinely mentally ill should not get the guns, but then the implication is also that anyone with “right-wing” views should fail the checks… So these gun checks are just a way to disarm right-wing Americans as Americans get set to become a minority in their own country. Great work, Wendy! By the way, there’s no such thing as an “assault weapon”. This is a media term used by people who don’t have any knowledge of the various gun types. The 2nd Amendment requires Americans to have weapons of such a type to allow them to resist a tyrannical government — to take on the federal government if necessary. Ideally, machine guns should be kept in every home.

Amin Readh

18th September 2019 at 4:08 am

You are clearly an unhinged sociopath, who needs to be locked up. But we won’t let that get in the way.

“The 2nd Amendment requires Americans to have weapons” Then change it. It is simple as that.

“Americans to have weapons of such a type to allow them to resist a tyrannical government” Any smart tyrannical government would get those gun off you anyway. So clearly that is not the reason for haivng guns.

“By the way, there’s no such thing as an “assault weapon”.” Incorrect. It is a reference to semi-automatic weapons. Likely the term grew from “assault rifle”. But it was historically a military term.

Jonathan Swift

21st September 2019 at 3:22 am

Have you ever actually read the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution?

Did you know that that the 2nd Amendment is in recognition of the fact that the Battles of Lexington and Concord (the first two battles of the American Revolution) were fought to prevent gun confiscation?

The Americans had essentially the same rifles as the British soldiers, so any argument of military weapons versus civilian weapons is without merit!

Mark Williams

18th September 2019 at 4:29 am

I agree. I thought the same thing when I read the title.

It amuses me that Spiked can get so many things right (free speech, transgenderism, Brexit, etc.), then completely lose the plot when it comes to America. Previous articles in Spiked have pushed the “good people on both sides” conspiracy theory that persists despite the news conference being on YouTube, and despite it being obvious what Trump was talking about.

TDS at its finest, I think.

Let’s take a look. The Democrats pushed the Trump-Russia conspiracy theory for two years. They pushed the Kavanaugh conspiracy theory.

Socialism is now on the cards in the US, through Sanders and “The Squad”. What does socialism need? No guns, because the citizenry will fight back.

Does anyone really think that the Democrats will stop after a couple of laws? The same argument will be made — over and over again — until guns are no longer a right in America. That’s a pre-requisite for socialism.

It’s all so obvious.

Amin Readh

18th September 2019 at 2:58 pm

@ Mark Williams

When socialists gets in and they want to impose their authoritarian will, then they will just take your guns away first. So it is a moot point.

Guns should not be a right in America. There is no such “natural right”.

David Webb

18th September 2019 at 11:32 pm

What “good people on both side” conspiracy theory? At Charlottesville, the right had a legal permit to assemble. The left came with baseball bats to disrupt the protest. All the good people were on the right.

Jerry Owen

19th September 2019 at 12:01 am

Kaminer hasn’t mentioned the Russian thing for a while … She either needs more evidence of Trump’s collusion , or admit she’s a tin foil hat wearer !

Amin Readh

19th September 2019 at 7:40 am

@ Jerry Owen

Oh look the loon is back. What is that Trump worship gets you? You do know that his networth is around 20million and he is not a billionaire. And you are not going to see a penny of it? You are sort of aware of reality aren’t you?

Jerry Owen

19th September 2019 at 5:19 pm

Amin Readt
I’m not going to see any of Trump’s money ? What are you garbling on about ?

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to comment. Log in or Register now.