Editor’s Note: Dan Gross is president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The views expressed are his own.
Dan Gross: Growing public backlash against presidential candidates who side with gun lobby
Ballot initiatives offer a true path forward, he writes
For every great social issue there is a moment when we look back and say “that’s when things really started to change.” For the epidemic of gun violence in America that moment is now.
For years, watching massacre after massacre, we’ve asked ourselves “what’s it going to take to get something done?” “How many more children have to die in a school shooting?” “How many more places, from malls to movie theaters to churches, have to be turned into graphic testimony to a ‘new normal’?” “How many more people do we have to bury than the 89 who are killed with bullets in our nation every day?”
Turns out we have been asking ourselves the wrong questions. No single incident, no matter how horrible, and no statistic, no matter how shocking, is going to change things by itself. What is going to change things – what always does – is when the American public comes together, based on common goals and common values, to say “enough!” And that is exactly what is happening, finally, on the gun violence issue.
We certainly still have a long way to go, and a lot of hard work to do, but there is no doubt that change is in the air.
Sure, some of the voices saying “enough,” are coming from the same places they always have: victims, advocacy organizations like Brady and progressive politicians and media. But what makes this moment different, what makes it a tipping point is the extent to which those voices are being echoed and amplified by the broader American public and in popular culture, and manifesting themselves in real change in ways that only recently would have been considered unthinkable.
First, there is a real pop culture echo chamber forming. As with smoking, drinking and driving and same-sex marriage, the sentiments of the American public are being reflected in media and culture beyond victims and advocates. In just the past few weeks we have seen shows such as “Blackish” and “Saturday Night Live” make powerful points through comedy. And Kim Kardashian West made a passionate, unsolicited appeal for background checks to her more than 35 million Twitter followers.
Then there’s the 2016 presidential race, where guns have emerged in the spotlight. Long considered a “third rail” issue, major presidential candidates are actually running on it. In last week’s Democratic debate, candidates were falling over each other to demonstrate the strength of their stance for sensible gun laws. They were actually bragging about their negative NRA ratings. For anyone who has been working on this issue for a while, it was almost surreal to watch. There is also increasing public backlash against candidates who side with the gun lobby and use their talking points (think Jeb Bush’s “stuff happens” after the shooting in Oregon). Suddenly it has become an issue that the candidates on the wrong side don’t want to discuss.
Meanwhile, there is also overwhelming public support for change, which only continues to increase. An astounding 93% of the American public, including 90% of Republican voters, more than 80% of gun owners and more than 70% of NRA households support expanding Brady background checks to all gun sales. The disconnect between the American public and the politicians who are supposed to be representing us is becoming increasingly clear. Simply put, pressure is mounting on policymakers to finish the job the Brady Law started.
All this is translating to real momentum and meaningful change. Since the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in December 2012, and the failure of Congress to expand background checks to all gun sales, we have focused our fight on the states. And we’re winning. In fact, since 20 children and six teachers were killed at Sandy Hook, six states – Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Oregon and Washington – have expanded Brady background checks to all gun sales. We are already on the ballot next year in Nevada for a citizen’s initiative, and Maine will soon follow.
Ballot initiatives, where citizens can vote directly on a new law, illuminate a true path forward. Turns out it’s a lot easier for the gun lobby to bully a small number of politicians than to bully millions of voters. After we win in Maine and Nevada, there are 14 more states that have the ballot initiative process that don’t have expanded background checks. We will continue our march across this country, one state at a time, until Congress, almost always the last to get it, ultimately gets a message from the American public they can no longer ignore.
We’re almost there. The American people have had enough. Enough of the mass shootings, enough of 89 people dying every day, and enough of a small group of craven politicians putting the interests of a corporate lobby ahead of our safety.
After almost two decades dedicating my life to this issue, it is so inspiring to see all this happening, to know that voices like the Brady Campaign are not alone in the wilderness as we have been for so long, to see all this clear evidence that our mission is turning into a true movement, into a collective outcry of “enough,” and that the tipping point for the gun issue, finally, is here.