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 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 1:10 PM EDT, Sat April 19, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
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
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT