Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Don't let this moment pass without acting on gun control

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
updated 12:31 PM EST, Tue December 18, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Avlon: The horrific shootings in Newtown changed debate on guns
  • He says several pro-gun Democrats have spoken out for new controls
  • Avlon: A poll shows a boost in public support for gun control
  • There is a moral urgency to follow through on this moment, he says

Editor's note: John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is co-editor of the book "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns." He is a regular contributor to "Erin Burnett OutFront" and is a member of the OutFront Political Strike Team. For more political analysis, tune in to "Erin Burnett OutFront" at 7 ET weeknights.

(CNN) -- Sometimes it takes a tragedy to make us confront reality.

In the wake of the slaughter of first graders in Newtown, Connecticut, there are signs that the country -- and Congress -- are ready to confront the cancer of gun violence that kills over 11,000 Americans each year.

More than 200 Americans have been killed in mass shootings in the last five years. After each attack -- whether it was Virginia Tech or Aurora, Colorado -- we were told that it was too soon to talk about the role of guns. Now, the fever of denial might be breaking.

John Avlon
John Avlon

A new Washington Post/ABC poll taken after the shooting shows that 54% of Americans now support stricter gun laws and 59% support a nationwide ban on high-capacity ammunition clips -- meaning those that contain more than 10 bullets.

The big question of course is whether Congress will listen. This has not been an area where politicians have carved out a new chapter of profiles in courage in recent years. Instead, they have run away in the face of the lobbying power of the National Rifle Association.

But in the past two days, two Southern Democratic senators with A-ratings from the NRA have broken ranks to say that it is time to begin a serious, civil and constructive conversation about remedies to mass gun violence -- including perhaps a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban and a restriction of high-capacity clips.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin -- who famously took aim at a cap and trade bill with a high-powered hunting rifle in a 2010 campaign ad -- told CNN's Christiane Amanpour that the Newtown shooting "changed me. ... I don't know of anybody that goes hunting with an assault rifle. I don't know people that need 10-, 20-, 30-round clips."

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Add to this chorus of conscience Virginia Sen. Mark Warner -- a fellow former governor and current senator. He told a local Richmond TV station: "I believe every American has 2nd Amendment right -- the ability to hunt is part of our culture. I've had an NRA rating of an A. But you know, enough is enough. I'm a father of three daughters and this weekend they said, 'Dad, how can this go on?'"

These two senators are leaders of the centrist coalition, and their evolution on this issue matters. It is particularly well timed because Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced her intention to submit legislation to reinstate the lapsed assault weapons ban as well as ban "big clips, drums or strips of more than 10 bullets."

That bill would provide the substantive basis for a new round of reasonable restrictions on weapons that have little purpose other than to kill as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.

To date, there are few Republicans who have newly embraced the need for new gun legislation. Rep. Peter King of New York and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine are influential, but among the few returning congressional Republicans who back the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban and restrictions on the sale of mass capacity magazines. But the senators who have boasted the backing of the NRA in the past have been notably silent since the slaughter in Newtown. That can fairly be read as a hope that this moment will pass.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, has been leading the gun crusade in recent years through his group Mayors Against Illegal Guns. In many areas, America's mayors have been leading the policy debate in our nation, and this organization's message has taken on new urgency, unveiling an effort to encourage supporters to "Demand a Plan" from Washington. In the wake of the Newtown shootings, nine new mayors decided to join the group, including the mayors of Raleigh, North Carolina, and Tucson, Arizona -- major cities in the heart of gun country, the South and West.

In this and so many other areas, the fact is that Americans are less polarized than our politicians. A poll commissioned by Mayors Against Illegal Guns and conducted by conservative pollster Frank Luntz found that 74% of NRA members supported background checks on every gun sale. The larger point is that there is common ground to be found even on this emotional issue -- especially if mental health is part of the civic conversation, because self-control and gun control are intertwined.

There is a responsibility to remember after events like this -- a need for sustained focus after the heat of the moment passes. Real change will require constructive civic conversation, the kind that Manchin noted has become rare, saying: "It's a shame that we've gotten so toxic a political environment that today in Washington that you can't sit down and have reasonable discussions with reasonable people to come out to reasonable conclusions."

But there is a moral urgency to follow through on this moment. The normal politically convenient amnesia can't be allowed to set in. More senators need to be pressed on the issue of reasonable restrictions and prodded by the polls.

Feinstein's proposed bill will no doubt start a substantive debate. As President Obama said in his memorial address in Newtown, "No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. ... But that can't be an excuse for inaction."

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
updated 12:40 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
updated 3:26 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT