How Parkland school shooting is shifting electoral landscape

Moms Demand Action members descended on the Louisiana State Legislature to show support for a “red flags” bill that would allow police to seize guns from people who pose a risk to themselves or others. (Photo by Michelle Gajda)

We won’t know the full extent until after the midterm elections, but gun violence is sure to be a key factor driving people to the polls this year. And for once, the numbers are likely to favor those in favor of common-sense gun safety laws, not those backing the positions of the National Rifle Association.

You can see the evidence in many ways across the country:

  • Public opinion polls continue to show a swing toward stricter gun laws since the Valentine’s Day mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Support for stricter gun laws is hitting record highs.
  • The #MarchForOurLives events on March 24 attracted millions of participants at 800-plus marches in all 50 states and on six continents, including at least 850,000 in Washington, D.C., alone. A recent poll conducted by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that one in five Americans have attended a recent protest, political rally, or speech.
  • There are huge surges in numbers of people volunteering for and donating to gun control groups. At least 75,000 new volunteers showed up at meetings of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America shortly after the Parkland shooting, and the numbers only continue to grow. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has started three new chapters and reported increases in donations. More than 450,000 people have signed a “vote courage” pledge on the website of Giffords: The Courage to Fight Gun Violence, and new donations total $1.2 million.
  • The #MarchForOurLives events also featured voter registration, and all of the gun safety groups are joining together to make sure those young marchers are also registered to vote.
  • It’s not just general opinion polls: A PPP poll found that stopping gun violence was the top priority for one-third of Florida Democratic voters. A CBS News nationwide poll found that two-thirds of American voters say candidates must agree with their views on guns to earn their vote.

Of course, that issue resonates with two-thirds of voters on both sides of the gun issue. But maybe enough numbers have shifted in the direction of gun safety that the results will be different this time around.

One sign of change is shown in which races Democrats are choosing to contest, and where they want their voices to be heard.

Lucy McBath on her way home from the Washington march.

Take this example: Lucia “Lucy” McBath, who lost her teenage son to gun violence, originally wanted to run for a seat in the Georgia State House. But after the Parkland shooting, she’s thinking bigger.

Now she’s running for Congress.

McBath lost her son, Jordan Davis, in 2012 when a white driver approached the vehicle Jordan was in at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida. The white driver, Michael Dunn, complained that the teenagers’ rap music was too loud. Words were exchanged, and Dunn fired 10 shots into the teens’ car, killing Jordan. It took two trials, but Dunn was finally found guilty of first-degree murder in 2014.

McBath became a spokeswoman for Moms Demand Action, reaching out to faith communities, and became active as part of the Mothers of the Movement, a group of women who lost children to gun violence. They spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, and campaigned for Hillary Clinton.

But now she has turned from activism to politics. She traveled to the Washington March for Our Lives event, meeting with Parkland survivors beforehand.

A story in The Washington Post quotes from a letter McBath wrote to her supporters on why she was making the change, saying that “her voice was needed in Washington.”

“In the last few weeks since the tragedy in Parkland, we’ve all witnessed the reaction from Washington,” she wrote. “It’s been much of the same response after every other mass shooting. ‘It’s not time to have the debate.’ ‘Let’s wait and see.’ ‘It isn’t the time to act.’ So, with much prayer and reflection, I’ve decided to listen to the voters I met and to those brave students from Parkland and run for Congress in my home district of Georgia’s 6th.”

McBath becomes a high-profile candidate in what could be a high-profile race. Georgia’s 6th Congressional District is held by Rep. Karen Handel, who edged out a two-point win over Jon Ossoff in a 2017 special election. As McBath told Mother Jones after she met the Parkland survivors:

The students are the whole demographic of individuals we’ve needed to stand up and to act on their own behalf, not just for themselves but for all gun violence victims. …

My goal is to win [the election], but the overreaching goal is to make sure that we are forcing our legislatures to do right by the people. I want to be part of that process [and] I know that my voice will have a great deal of impact because this is what I do.

The race won’t be easy. McBath won a runoff for the Democratic nomination, having bested three other Democratic candidates. The seat has been held by Republicans for nearly 40 years, but who knows — after Parkland, Georgia voters may think it’s time for a change.

Candidates running for office can seek endorsements from gun safety groups. Moms Demand Action will endorse candidates who meet the group’s criteria as supporting common-sense gun laws. Candidates for both state and federal offices can fill out a questionnaire at the group’s website to earn that endorsement; those that do will earn an electronic image that can be used on campaign websites and elsewhere on social media to show that they are certified candidates. You might have seen this image already on campaign sites or in tweets. (The NRA, of course, also sends out questionnaires to candidates, basically demanding support, to develop the group’s letter-grade ratings. It keeps the contents of its questionnaires secret, but it sends its ratings to voters. The Moms Demand Action questionnaire is available to the public as a PDF.)

In the same vein, people whom gun safety groups have given the name gun sense voters can use the same questionnaire to ask candidates for their positions on gun safety. The gun sense voter program is a joint project of Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety.

The GiffordsPAC also endorses candidates, and its list of endorsements is growing, in races for governor and for the U.S. House. It backed several successful candidates in 2017 elections, especially in Virginia, including Gov. Ralph Northam.

No one working for a Blue Wave in the midterms feels complacent—we’ve still got an uphill battle against gerrymandered districts. Gun safety groups might have received a surge of new donations, but so did the NRA — the rate of donations to the gun lobby group tripled after the Parkland shooting.

When it comes to the gun issue, though, consider this: In the statewide election for a new Supreme Court justice in Wisconsin, the new justice is progressive Judge Rebecca Dallet. The GOP spent big money backing Judge Michael Screnock, Gov. Scott Walker’s handpicked candidate. Screnock received an NRA endorsement and NRA help during the election.

And he lost by double digits.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on April 8, 2018.

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