- Since Democrats control the White House and Congress, it’s time to address gun violence.
- Passing sensible laws on background checks and firearm locks would be supported by a large majority of Americans.
- Michael Gordon is a longtime Democratic strategist, a former spokesman for the Justice Department, and the principal for the strategic-communications firm Group Gordon.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
Last month, President Joe Biden took the oath of office and vowed to guide our nation through the many crises we face. Since then, he has wasted no time in getting to work on the pandemic, our crippled economy, racial injustice, and the global climate crisis.
But of all the many issues on Biden’s agenda, there’s one that has received little air time: gun safety. With Democrats in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, this might be our best chance in decades to take steps towards meaningful reform that could stem the deadly tide.
The next crisis on the agenda
The national conversation about gun safety, like so many other issues, has been largely silenced by the all-consuming pandemic. But before the virus arrived, mass shootings were tragically pervasive.
Gun deaths have risen steadily in recent years, and mass shootings are becoming more frequent and more deadly. Marjory Stoneman Douglas, El Paso, Dayton, Santa Fe High, the Las Vegas strip, Sandy Hook, and countless other tragedies have been constant reminders to Americans of the urgency of the gun crisis.
In 2018, students nationwide joined the March For Our Lives movement and walked out of classrooms in protest of our government’s failure to pass gun safety legislation. It seemed that America had finally reached a tipping point – that much-needed reform could no longer be ignored. And yet, while the movement compelled Florida’s governor at the time, Rick Scott, to break from the NRA and sign a sweeping gun safety bill for his state, larger national legislation like universal background checks never escaped the Republican Senate’s legislative graveyard.
But while the movement has yet to yield major national policy victories, it has made significant strides in the court of public opinion.
Polling has consistently found that an overwhelming majority – up to 94% of Americans – support universal background checks for all gun buyers. “Red flag” laws, which allow law enforcement to temporarily seize weapons from high-risk individuals and are effective at preventing workplace shootings and domestic killings, are supported by Americans of both parties. And a strong majority also support gun licensing, banning assault weapons, and outlawing the sale of high-capacity magazines.
When the virus finally recedes, the energy around the gun safety movement will return, likely, sadly, following another tragedy. High-profile shootings will once again bring gun violence to national headlines. Soon, more students and workers will be back to routine, traumatic active shooter drills. Our return to relatively normalcy will mean a return to the normal tragedy that is the American gun crisis, which is why now is the time for congressional Democrats and strong-willed Republican allies to act.
Two weeks ago, on the third anniversary of the Parkland shooting, Biden called on Congress to institute “commonsense gun law reform,” signaling that a concerted push is hopefully on the horizon. With the president on board, a blue House and Senate, and overwhelming public support for gun safety legislation, there is real reason to be optimistic about our government finally breaking the stalemate that has held for over a quarter century. But it won’t be easy. The slim Democratic Senate majority means that gaining support from the center of the chamber – moderates of both parties – is critical.
Not all moderates have voted along party lines on gun issues in the past. For example, in the 2013 vote on the Manchin-Toomey bill, a limited gun background check measure, nine senators strayed from their party. So for every Democratic moderate who may balk at proposed gun policy, you may get a Republican to sign on. Democratic leaders will have to be surgical in crafting policy that will enable them to secure moderate votes, particularly if the filibuster remains intact.
As a starting point, Democrats need to take the first steps of change that can get through a closely divided Congress. For example, Ethan’s Law, which simply requires households with children to lock firearms – rather than restricting gun sales – may be a foot in the door. Measures that aim to close loopholes in existing policy like Jaime’s Law, which mandates background checks to buy ammunition, may also be more achievable in the near-term than reviving an assault weapons ban.
The opposition to gun safety measures has one approach: no change, no compromise. But if we continue to do nothing, we will guarantee the return of mass domestic shootings in a post-pandemic world.
Democrats need to face reality that the clock is ticking. If historical midterm election patterns hold, Democrats will lose their narrow majority in the House next year. This may be the last best hope to do something meaningful for a very long time, so Democrats must act with urgency.
Biden and the Democratic Party have rightfully and accurately triaged the mess of crises left in the wake of the previous administration. However, the gun violence issue isn’t going away and will continue to cost our country precious lives until meaningful reform is passed. On the heels of a record-shattering year for firearm sales, it’s never been a more critical time to act.
Democrats must not squander this rare opportunity to deliver lifesaving reform that the American people demand.