Why Another Uvalde Is Inevitable
Though it may seem unrelated to the current epidemic of mass shootings, gerrymandering is killing our children. Part 1 of a series
Our collective grief over the Uvalde school massacre is a grim reminder that we have been here too many times before.
After I wept over the tragedy and prayed for the victims, I paid close attention to the tsunami of information that flooded our lives after the incident. Buried in all that content were five deep-rooted reasons why our nation is stuck in a tragic Ground Hog Day scenario when it comes to school shootings.
Even as some lawmakers announce bipartisan talks to discuss the usual gun-control reforms—red flag laws, raising the age limit, expanding background checks, making it more difficult for abusive or mentally ill people to purchase guns, redefining who qualifies as a gun seller (we’ve heard them all before)—few believe Congress is likely to come up with a meaningful solution that will prevent another Uvalde, Parkland, Sandy Hook, or Columbine. Another Buffalo, Charleston, Las Vegas, El Paso—and now, incredibly—Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Why is that?
The reasons for this congressional stalemate are not the ones we tend to hear about from the talking heads on either side of the political spectrum. But they run deep and contribute significantly to Washington’s failure to act. It is also difficult to change any of them.
Instead of dealing with all five reasons in a lengthy single piece, let’s look at only one of them today. I’ll circle back to the other four in future articles.
Partisan redistricting is killing our children
When I voted in this year’s Georgia primary, I noticed a telling omission from my ballot. My current congressman Democrat Lucy McBath, a gun-control advocate representing Georgia’s 6th congressional district, was no longer on my ballot.
That’s because in 2021 McBath’s district was redrawn by Republicans in the state legislature, forcing her to run against another Democrat Carolyn Bordeaux, who currently represents the neighboring 7th district.
By gerrymandering the two currently seated Democrats into the same district, local GOP politicians—who have the majority in the state assembly—reduced the Democratic majority in next year’s Congress by one vote.
McBath defeated Bordeaux in the May 24 primary and will likely win against her Republican opponent in November. That’s because the newly redrawn 7th district has become heavily Democratic. But McBath’s old district now includes more rural residents who voted for Trump by a margin of 15 points in 2020.
The newly redrawn 6th district will almost certainly vote red in the next election, giving the GOP another vote in the new Congress. Before the gerrymandering, McBath’s old district voted for Biden by a margin of 11 points.
Here’s the problem
Recent statistics from the Pew Research Center show that people who live in more densely populated urban areas are in favor of some form of gun control. Those who live in rural areas are not.
When rioting broke out in Atlanta following the 2020 shooting of Rayshard Brooks, an unarmed Black man, by a white police officer, white residents north of the city rushed to buy more guns. They openly took to social media asking how they could speed up the licensing process and where to buy more ammunition.
Some were responding to online rumors claiming that the rioters were planning to invade communities 30 to 40 miles to the north. White suburban residents were afraid. They wanted to protect themselves if things got ugly. For them, that meant arming themselves.
Purple vs. Red vs. Blue
Before it was gerrymandered, Georgia’s 6th Congressional district was both red and blue—purple. But it didn’t start out that way. This was the district that sent Newt Gingrich to Congress in 1979 and kept him there for 20 years.
But over time, demographics here changed. As with other fast-growing suburbs around the country, its residents became both Democrat and Republican. This diversity led to a more centrist candidate who could appeal to both parties, most of whom were united on gun control.
They might disagree on abortion or same sex marriage, but they cared enough about gun control to send McBath to Washington. When that happens, you get a recipe for talking to your neighbors, reaching across the aisle. Working out a compromise. Getting things done.
By removing most Democrats from McBath’s old district, the GOP has turned it almost entirely red again. Redrawing the district means that a hardline gun-rights advocate will likely win McBath’s old seat in November. That new congressman will be expected to represent the views of the red voters who elected him. If he doesn’t, they will vote him out.
This is how representative democracy is supposed to work.
This is also a recipe for polarization. It’s how gridlock gets created. If you’re sent to Congress by voters who have no need to compromise, you have no need to compromise either. You betray them if you don’t vote their interests when you get to Washington.
There’s no incentive to vote for something your constituents don’t want. To do so is political suicide.
But they do it, too
Yes. Both Democrats and Republicans gerrymander, and they do it for the same reason. To hold onto power by tilting the playing field in their favor. But that doesn’t make it right. And that doesn’t protect our democracy. Districts should be drawn by a nonpartisan commission based on normal geographic boundaries. Why is that so difficult to understand?
The Supreme Court has ruled that gerrymandering on the basis of race or ethnicity is unconstitutional. It has also said that extreme gerrymandering can also be unconstitutional. But in 2019 in a crucial 5-4 decision involving cases in North Carolina ((Rucho v. Common Cause) and Maryland (Lamone v. Benisek), the conservative majority ruled that although partisan gerrymandering is incompatible with democratic principles, it presents political considerations outside the jurisdiction of the courts.
In a fierce dissent, Justice Elena Kagan said the decision imperiled the nation’s system of government, the foundation of which depends on free and fair elections.
In the end, even the courts agree that gerrymandering disenfranchises voters. But they’ve decided to leave it up to elected representatives and the lower courts to correct the situation.
Fox in the hen house?
At first glance, this is like telling the fox to fix the hole that lets him into the hen house. However, state courts have taken the high court at its word. This year, they’ve thrown out redistricting maps in New York, North Carolina, and Maryland. But that’s only three states out of 50.
Meanwhile, justices at the state court level are vulnerable too. They also have to run for office, though in Georgia, at least, those positions are considered nonpartisan.
This is why all politics is local
When we get all fired up over charismatic national leaders and rush to the polls to support them, we often forget how much power is held by local politicians whose names many voters don’t even recognize.
And yet, these local politicians create the national climate that gridlocks America. They take a purple country where most people favor some form of gun control—and turn it into small partisan blocks of blue or red. Blocks that are set up to oppose each other from the start.
Gerrymandering pits one extreme side against another and eliminates important opportunities for compromise within a shared town square. Gerrymandering obstructs democracy at the cellular level. It’s like lupus or multiple sclerosis. Gerrymandering is killing our kids.
By engaging in this pernicious practice, these local culprits—both Democrats and Republicans—have become architects of the polarization that gridlocks DC, making it impossible for Congress to compromise on meaningful gun-control reform.
They may claim to be innocent of what happened in Uvalde. But I wonder—is it possible that they too have blood on their hands?
©2022 Andrew Jazprose Hill
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