Editor’s Note: Gabrielle Giffords represented Arizona’s 8th district in Congress from 2007 to 2012. Captain Mark Kelly (US Navy, retired) is a combat veteran and former NASA astronaut. They co-founded the gun violence prevention organization Americans for Responsible Solutions in 2013. The views expressed are their own.
Political candidates are scrambling to communicate their support for gun safety, authors write
With the vocal majority of Americans behind us, our movement has reached a tipping point, they say
We knew we had to speak up – and stand up.
It was December 2012, and 20 kindergartners and first graders had been murdered in their classrooms at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. It was as heartbreaking as it was senseless.
It was then that we decided to devote ourselves and our second chance at service to making our communities safer from gun violence. To do our small part, we’d help fight for better gun laws and policies that keep deadly weapons out of the hands of dangerous individuals while respecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners like us. It just seemed like the responsible thing to do.
Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we’ve founded a gun violence prevention organization, Americans for Responsible Solutions, and criss-crossed the nation, speaking out about the commonsense solutions, like closing loopholes in our criminal background check laws for gun sales, that have been proven to reduce gun violence and save lives.
We’ve met with gun violence survivors, legislators and testified before Congress. We’ve heard from those on the front lines of our national gun violence crisis. We’ve worked with veterans, law enforcement, businessmen and women, members of the clergy, and domestic violence prevention leaders.
The toughest part has been the stories we so frequently hear about those whose lives are altered or ended because the wrong person got his or her hands on a gun. Some, like the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, dominate national headlines, but most never make the news. There are simply too many: 92 people killed with a gun each day. That’s 33,000 people dead each year. And every year, 117,000 are shot and injured.
But beyond the breaking news alerts and the continuing devastation of gun violence in America is a more hopeful story: Nearly four years after Newtown, we’re fighting, and we’re winning.
While Congress has failed to act, in the states we’ve seen progress for commonsense reform; since the tragedy at Sandy Hook, leaders in 42 states have passed 138 new responsible, stronger gun laws. States like Colorado and Oregon have closed background check loopholes, and even states like Louisiana and Alabama voted to strengthen laws that keep guns away from domestic abusers. Gun violence prevention has gained a level of prominence unthinkable just a few years ago, with a 15-hour Senate filibuster, a historic sit-in on the House floor, and an entire program on gun safety at the Democratic National Convention.
We’ve known for years that the vast majority of Americans – a staggering 92% – support lifesaving policies like universal background checks, but in 2016 we’ve seen those Americans speak out like never before, standing up to the gun lobby and demanding change from elected leaders. The silent majority has become the vocal majority.
Which brings us to the 2016 elections.
In a stark reversal of common political practice, candidates are scrambling to communicate their support for gun safety. Why? Because voters are demanding it. And because we’re holding lawmakers in the gun lobby’s grip accountable.
Take, for example, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who went against her constituents and voted to protect background check loopholes after Newtown, only to claim, come election season, that she actually supports background checks. No matter: Our organization has run advertising highlighting her vote and her deception. Now, polls have swung against her.
It’s a national effort. That’s why, this fall, we’re undertaking a campaign to ignite the vocal majority of gun-sense supporters from coast to coast. And we’re standing by our friends who have championed smart gun laws in Congress. Some of those friends are Democrats; some are Republicans. All of them know how urgently we need to do more to keep guns out of dangerous hands. Saving lives should be an American priority, not a partisan litmus test.
In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, Republican Sens. Pat Toomey and Mark Kirk broke from the gun lobby and supported a bill to help prevent felons, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill from obtaining firearms at gun shows and online.
This week, they are earning our organization’s endorsement.
Out west, two Democratic senators from states with proud traditions of gun ownerships are also earning our organization’s endorsement. As Nevada’s attorney general, Catherine Cortez Masto, stood with us in support of background checks legislation. That bill was vetoed, but Nevadans have the opportunity to enact it at the ballot box this fall. Catherine Cortez Masto should be the next senator from Nevada.
In Colorado, Sen. Michael Bennet, who voted to expand background checks and joined the recent filibuster for gun safety, is running for re-election. He has earned the endorsement as well.
With so many more candidates running on a gun violence prevention platform, in some places the changing politics of gun safety has made our endorsement decision difficult. In Pennsylvania, Katie McGinty is a passionate advocate for gun violence prevention and would be a consistent vote for life-saving gun safety laws in the Senate. Likewise, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois is not only a decorated veteran and an American hero, but has been a champion for commonsense gun laws in the House. We have no doubt she would continue to be a leader on gun safety in the Senate.
With the vocal majority of Americans behind us, our movement has reached a tipping point. Our coalition is black and white, Latino and Asian. We are gay and straight. We are gun owners. We are Democrats and Republicans. And we’ve all had enough with the gun violence that is tearing our communities apart.
Change won’t happen overnight. But soon, when we’re wondering why it took so long, we’ll remember 2016 as year America found its voice.