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Reviews |  It’s not going too well for the government of the people, by the people and for the people

The filibuster, however, is only part of the larger problem of the capture of American political institutions by an unrepresentative minority whose adamant refusal to compromise is pushing the entire system to breaking point.

Large majorities of Americans favor universal background checks, bans on “assault-type” weapons, bans on high-capacity magazines, and “red flag” laws that would prevent people who might injure or injure others from buying firearms.

But the American political system was not designed to directly represent national majorities. To the extent that it is, it is through the House of Representatives. The Senate, of course, represents the states. And in the Senate (much to the chagrin of many editors), population doesn’t matter – every state has a say. Fifty-one lawmakers representing a minority of voters can block 49 lawmakers representing a majority of them (and that’s before, again, we come to the filibuster).

Add voter polarization by geography — a rural, exurban Republican Party versus an urban, suburban Democratic Party — and the picture goes from bad to perverse. Not only can Republicans, who tend to represent less populous states, win a majority in the Senate with far less than a majority of votes nationwide, but by using the filibuster, a small number of senators Republicans representing an even smaller faction of voters can kill legislation supported by most voters and most members of Congress.

The Senate may have been counter-majority by design, but there is a difference between a system that tempers majorities and one that bars them from action. We have the latter, and like Congress under the failed Articles of Confederation, it scoffs at what James Madison called the “Republican Principle”, which is supposed to enable the majority of the people to overcome “sinister views of a minority faction by “regular vote”.

Rather than removing “faction misdeeds,” our system empowers them. Few Americans want the most permissive gun laws. But those who do have captured the Republican Party and used its institutional advantages both to stop gun control and to elevate a broad, idiosyncratic view of gun rights to the level of constitutional law.

The result is a country so saturated with weapons that there is no real hope of returning to the status quo ante. On the contrary, US gun laws are about to become even more permissive. If the Supreme Court rules as expected in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, she will overturn a law that requires a license to carry a concealed firearm.


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