The #NeverAgain movement, started by students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after the February shooting in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 people, set a clear demand on elected officials: pass more restrictive gun laws, or we’ll vote you out.
The results of the midterm elections suggest that the movement made headway in suburban districts across the country, but failed in more rural, conservative states. The next Congress may then pass bills regarding assault weapons and background checks in the new Democratic House only to see them stall in the even more Republican Senate. For gun control advocates, that’s progress, but not enough.
While mass gun shootings have become a regular occurrence in America —Thousand Oaks, California this week, a Pittsburgh synagogue last month, Maryland’s Capital Gazette newsroom this summer, Santa Fe High School this spring, Parkland this winter, Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas last year — the response in Washington is expected to be as divided as ever.
But Democrats who are taking the House say they will push forward to pass gun control bills early in the new Congress.
“Especially today, we’re reminded of the urgency of this,” Rep. Ted Deutch, Democrat of Florida, told CNN. “Last night at Thousand Oaks, one of the safest cities in America, just like Parkland, just like Newtown, we saw another mass shooting … and Congress needs to take action.”
“I’m confident in the early days of the next Congress, we’ll move forward on common sense, bipartisan gun safety measures that have enjoyed overwhelming popularity everywhere in the country except the United States Congress,” he added.
Deutch said implementing universal background checks, a “gun violence restraining order,” which allows law enforcement to ask a judge to temporarily take guns away from people who are deemed a threat, and banning so-called “bump stocks,” are at the top of his list, along with other school safety and mental health initiatives.
With Democrats in control of the House, they can also hold hearings on gun violence, which they tried to pressure Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte, the Republican Congressman of Virginia, to do last year. In March, Rep. Jerry Nadler, the New York Democrat who will take the gavel next year, said “it is long past due” that the committee address the nation’s gun laws.
The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut, motivated President Barack Obama to issue executive action to strengthen the background check system, but Congress failed to pass legislation expanding the checks to gun shows and Internet sales. Republicans then took control of Congress by winning the Senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016, halting that bill and other measures. In October, a year after 58 people were killed in the Las Vegas shooting, President Donald Trump said that “bump stocks,” which make rifles fire at a faster rate, would be banned in the coming weeks. That has yet to happen.
For years, Democrats did not run on the gun control issue. But they’ve recently become more emboldened to campaign on it, according to advertising data from Campaign Media Analysis Group provided to CNN. From January 1, 2018, through Election Day, there were 125,879 pro-gun control ads for House, Senate and governor races — more than triple the number in 2016. Anti-gun control spots also jumped — from 77,625 in 2016 to 118,166 in 2018 — but the increase was less than double from the last election.
Deutch credits the #NeverAgain movement started in his district.
“The fact is that the families and the student survivors from Stoneman Douglas have spent the past almost nine months forcing this issue into the center of the political debate,” Deutch said. “That’s why you’ve seen so many ads. That’s why you’ve seen marches not just in Washington but all around the country. And that’s why so many of my soon-to-be former colleagues were defeated because, for years, they thought that they could ignore arguments from families and gun safety advocates and sit back and comfortable receive gun company money, and think they would be protected.”
“This election, because of this incredible leadership from young people, they were shown the door,” he added. “That’s going to impact the way members of the House and the Senate approach these issues going forward — and forever.”
There’s been a modest increase in Americans’ support for stricter gun legislation over the past year, according to a survey published last month by the Pew Research Center. CNN exit polling of the 2018 contests showed 10% of respondents named “gun policy” as the most important issue, behind health care, immigration and the economy. The vast majority of those people — 70% — were Democrats, indicating that the Republicans’ enthusiasm on the issue may have slipped.
Still, gun policy isn’t talked about much in advertisements compared to other issues. And when it is, there tends to be more anti-gun control ads than not. In 2018 congressional races, there were over 68,000 ads run mentioning “anti-gun control,” 2.8% of all ads, and over 47,000 spots run mentioning “pro-gun control,” about 2% of ads overall, according to CMAG.
While Democrats won the House, flipping more than 30 seats in suburban districts across the country, Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate by beating Democrats in red states like Indiana and Missouri, where the National Rifle Association spent over $2.4 million, according to The Trace, a nonpartisan watchdog group on gun violence issues. The NRA also spent heavily in Tennessee to keep the Senate seat in Republican hands, which it did successfully.
CNN’s David Wright contributed to this report.