We may well be in the midst of a landmark moment in the long and controversial history of the politics of guns in America.
The murders of 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, eight days ago – and the subsequent pop-up activism of their surviving classmates – has, at least in the near-term, changed the all-too-predictable blueprint of how the country reacts in the wake of a mass shooting.
President Donald Trump is promising action – although he remains uncertain as to what, specifically, he wants to get done and in what order. The likes of Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Pat Roberts of Kansas seem to be open to potential gun control compromises they might not have been a few weeks ago.
And yet, the path to passage through Congress of anything beyond a small-bore gun control measure remains very rocky.
The reason for that is simple: Republicans – and some Democrats – believe/know that if they cross the National Rifle Association on the organization’s priorities, there will be a political price to pay.
That price won’t necessarily be in campaign contributions, but more in the NRA’s ability to use its active membership list to make the lives of politicians who cross them uncomfortable.
What those supporting more so-called “common sense” gun restrictions have long lacked is the sort of counterweight political muscle to the NRA. Politicians are simply not afraid of those pushing for more gun control because, traditionally, they have been neither well-organized enough nor well-funded enough to instill fear.
That’s why, despite polls that show large majorities in support of things like universal background checks or even a nationwide assault ban, pro-gun rights politicians have shown little concern about avoiding these topics over the last several decades.
The Point: Fear is a powerful political motivator. If gun control advocates want to effect real change in the way politicians view the politics of guns, they need to show there are political consequences on both sides of this debate – not just the NRA’s.