How many voters are Republicans willing to lose over guns?
Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and too many Republicans are showing their continued allegiance to a weakened National Rifle Association by refusing to consider meaningful gun safety laws. But they could pay a stiff price in the next election.
Immediately after the weekend of the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings, which killed 31 people and wounded 50 others, there was clamoring from the GOP (after the usual thoughts and prayers) that this time, they were really going to do something. There was rhetoric about so-called “red flag” laws that sounded good until the details were revealed. All Republican senators are willing to do is deliver grants to states that already have red-flag laws, which allow people to petition a judge to remove firearms from a person deemed a threat to himself or others. But even someone whose guns are taken away in a state with a red-flag law could buy one in a neighboring state. And while red-flag laws are effective in preventing suicides, they don’t have as much effect stopping mass shootings.
Trump initially touted the idea of background checks, only to back away from the idea after meeting with the NRA and after his own advisers warned him his base wouldn’t like any new laws limiting guns. Trump delivered the no-background-check news in a phone call to NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre, who obviously thinks the NRA’s $30 million investment in Trump’s election was worth it.
Instead, Trump insists that fighting back against mental illness is key to fighting gun violence, even suggesting reopening “mental institutions” that have been closed for decades. He also insisted that “we do have a lot of background checks right now.” (That would be news to the families of victims killed by those who obtained weapons without such checks; new research shows that states with stricter background checks have fewer gun-related homicides.)
No doubt Republicans figured that the noise would die down after a few news cycles, and they could go back to their do-nothing response, just as they have after every mass shooting. Once Trump backed down, his Senate comrades followed along, giving a thumbs-down on both background checks and the red-flag proposal.
Hey, at least they’re not talking about the dangers of video games any more.
Too bad that large groups of voters are turning into gun sense voters. What are gun sense voters? Voters with the sense to vote GOP lawmakers who refuse to act on gun violence out of office.
It’s not hard to see why. Mothers who send children off to school in the morning, whether they’re in kindergarten or high school, face the fearful reality that those children might never return.
Here are some of the specifics of the poll, according to a story in The Washington Post:
- 72 percent of the women polled want stricter gun laws.
- 55 percent say stricter laws would cut gun violence.
- 90 percent want universal background checks.
- 88 percent want a longer waiting period for gun sales.
- 84 percent want a national red-flag law.
- 76 percent want bans on assault-style weapons.
- 72 percent want bans on high-capacity magazines.
The poll was done for the Republican Main Street Partnership, a firm supporting moderate GOP candidates (they still exist?), including five who co-sponsored the background checks bill passed by the House. As an official of the firm wrote in an email to The Washington Post:
“Suburban women have made it clear that they are ready for Congress to address the gun violence epidemic plaguing this country,” said Sarah Chamberlain, the president and chief executive of the Republican Main Street Partnership, in an email. “Our mission is to equip our members of Congress with pertinent information like this polling so that they may best address the needs of their suburban districts by crafting appropriate legislative responses.”
The Main Street Partnership might want to send those poll results to McConnell and the other troglodytes in the Senate who are holding up two gun safety bills passed by the House nearly six months ago. Just a suggestion.
Republicans have long counted on suburban women as part of their base. But that’s not the only voter group lost to them over gun violence. The 2018 turnout of young voters — those 18 to 29 years old — rose by 16 percentage points over the 2014 midterm election. Only 20 percent of voters in that age bracket went to the polls in 2014, but 36 percent of them voted in 2018. They’re planning to vote again in 2020, and gun violence and climate change are their top issues.
Of the voters in that age bracket, 43 percent plan to vote in Democratic primaries, compared with 36 percent who planned to do so in 2016. “The youth vote — especially young Democrats — is poised to play an even more significant role in 2020 than in the 2016 presidential contest,” concluded a Harvard Institute of Politics youth poll, which also stated that 58 percent of young voters are concerned that gun violence will affect them or someone close to them.
Who can blame them? This is a generation that grew up with mass shootings in schools, and some have seen classmates killed. They have practiced lockdowns and mass shooter drills since grade school.
That’s why the new Peace Plan for a Safer America from the survivors of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, is likely to attract even more young voters. (Voter registration is another key part of the March for Our Lives effort.)
The ambitious program is similar to the Green New Deal in that it pushes the conversation forward on gun violence and the need for a strong plan. In essence, the plan includes:
- Changing the the standards of gun ownership to include gun licensing and establishing a gun registry.
- Banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
- Establishing a national gun buy-back program.
- Passing a national red-flag law.
- Halving the number of gun deaths within a decade.
- Holding the gun lobby accountable.
- Appointing a national director of gun violence protection.
- Generating community-based solutions.
- Making voter registration automatic and establishing a “Safety Corps,” a Peace Corps for gun violence prevention.
No, all of those things aren’t going to happen, and they certainly won’t happen anytime soon. But just like the aims of the Green New Deal, some will be acted on sooner rather than later.
A no-brainer ban on high-capacity magazines should be first on any lawmaker’s list. If a shooter had to stop and reload, he — mass shooters are male — couldn’t kill as many people.
Support for stricter gun laws rises after every mass shooting, and recent polling is no different. The uncomfortable reality for Republicans, though, is that the support is not dropping. As a New York Times story put it:
More traditional polls have also shown increasing support for gun restrictions. Surveys from Gallup, Pew, Quinnipiac, ABC and NBC all show a modest recent rise in the share of Americans who say they believe controlling gun violence is more important than protecting gun rights or who say they favor more strict gun laws. …
There are factors beyond the top line of public opinion polls that could give gun control advocates hope that this time might be different.
The most recent attacks pose new political risks to Republicans. The president’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has been decried as a contributing factor to the violence, which may give Republicans new reason to take action. And gun control activists argue that some of the most recent shootings could have been prevented by so-called red flag laws.
Democrats have gotten the message. All of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have proposals on gun safety. All support universal background checks. Many back bans on semiautomatic rifles and high-capacity magazines. Some propose either a voluntary or mandatory assault weapon buyback program.
Grassroots gun safety groups such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America have only grown stronger after every mass shooting. Moms Demand membership soared to 4 million after the the Parkland shooting. The current number is nearly 6 million supporters, with chapters in every state. Gun safety groups have been holding and planning recess rallies throughout the country to show broad support for stricter gun laws before Congress reconvenes after Labor Day.
A CNN story quoted Peter Ambler, executive director of Giffords, the gun control advocacy group co-founded by former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head during a mass shooting at a Tuscon-area constituent event in 2011.
“The folks that have been skeptical about the politics of gun safety for a long time are the same ones who feel the gun debate needs to happen within the four corners of a compromise amendment from six years ago,” he said, referring to the 2013 Senate vote on universal background checks. “The debate that we’re seeing happen at the national level, whether we’re talking about presidential politics or Congress, is derived from the fact that voters across the country are extremely angry at the status quo. … The fact that our leaders are responding to that anger is of enormous benefit to our legislative efforts and doesn’t distract (from them) in any way, shape or form.”
Despite the pressure and overwhelming support for common-sense gun laws, it’s unlikely that any meaningful gun safety laws will pass on the national level, with Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader and Donald Trump in the White House. Just one more reason why it’s so important to reelect a Democratic House, retake the Senate, and oust Trump.
Gun rights voters are among the most reliable of GOP voters. But next year, gun sense voters could very well outnumber them. All of those Republicans too cowardly to act now might wake up to a strong message from gun sense voters the morning after Election Day 2020.
Originally posted on Daily Kos on Aug. 25, 2019.