Another day, another mass shooting, this time 12 people dead. It’s tempting to accept Wednesday night’s violence in Thousand Oaks, Calif., as just another day in blood-soaked America.
But we shouldn’t.
Not after the Tuesday election. Not after the Democrats flipped the House. Not after we witnessed the dwindling political influence of the National Rifle Association and the rise of politically savvy gun violence groups like Everytown for Gun Safety.
The NRA, a perennial political kingmaker, spent about $16.4 million on candidates during these midterms, less than half of what it spent in 2014, according to a Bloomberg News analysis. Compare that to Everytown, which poured $30 million across 110 races in this cycle. Nearly 80 percent of those candidates won.
Thoughts, prayers, and flags at half staff won’t stop the next angry gunman. But Congress can. Yes, it’ll be tough to get any gun legislation that the Democratic House approves past a Republican Senate, much less win President Trump’s signature. But passing legislation in the House has value and will put pressure on senators up for reelection in 2020 to act.
After they’re sworn in, in January, Democrats must move three legislative no-brainers: lifting the restrictions on federally funded gun research, expanding criminal background checks, and closing the gun show loophole that allows private sales in some jurisdictions.
US Representative Katherine Clark is ready, and has added another good idea: restrict sales of firearms to people who’ve abused animals, a known predictor of violence against people.
“We cannot let it become the routine in America that being shot to death is one of the concerns as you are going about your daily life,” the Melrose Democrat said in an interview. “If we are unsuccessful in getting the Senate and/or president to support new gun laws, that is a message we will be carrying into the election in 2020.”
As Clark points out, the landscape around gun control has shifted. Gun control advocates rarely used to match the intensity of pro-gun zealots, who are often single-issue voters. Now gun safety groups are starting to match the NRA’s political punch. Democratic congressional leaders used to fret about making members from conservative-leaning districts take tough votes on guns, especially if those bills would fail in the Senate anyway. But now the greater political risk for Democrats is in failing to act.
What’s important now is that the Democrats start putting some dents in the NRA’s armor and build momentum toward more far-reaching reforms like reinstating the assault rifle ban. Driving change is going to be hard. It’s going to be frustrating. But it’s what the party owes the millions of Americans who are tired of grief, tired of death, tired of helplessness — and who invested their faith in the Democratic Party on Tuesday.