It will be hard. But the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.
At a Senate Judiciary hearing on January 30th, Gabrielle Giffords offered those powerful opening words to the committee and in doing so, set the foundation for a national dialogue on the issue of gun violence in America. President Obama echoed these sentiments at his State of the Union address last week, evoking the memories of those lost to gun violence by saying four simple words: “they deserve a vote.”
But it wasn’t long after Giffords’ opening words had faded from the hearing room that the gun lobby and its supporters in Congress had begun putting up a stiff wall of resistance to common sense solutions to gun violence. First was NRA Vice-President Wayne LaPierre who spoke against universal background checks for firearms, despite his past statements supporting such proposals in the wake of previous gun violence incidents. When interviewed by Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, LaPierre doubled-down on his opposition, warning that universal checks could lead to the federal government creating a national registry:
I think what they’ll do is they’ll turn this universal check on the law-abiding into a universal registry of law-abiding people, and law-abiding people don’t want that…I just don’t think you can trust [them].
In fact, LaPierre’s statements were so outlandish during the hearing and his media interviews, that Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a gun violence prevention group chaired by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, aired an advertisement during the Super Bowl to call out the NRA on its hypocrisy.
Unfortunately for the country, the NRA’s reckless messaging was only beginning. Last weekend at a state convention in Wisconsin, NRA lobbyist Bob Welch bemoaned the “Connecticut effect” that was interfering with their legislative focus:
We have a strong agenda coming up for next year, but of course a lot of that’s going to be delayed as the “Connecticut effect” has to go through the process. I will tell you, the best sign on how well we are doing…is the people who don’t like guns realize that they can’t do a thing unless they talk to us. After Connecticut I had one of the leading Democrats in the legislature [say] “How about we close this gun show loophole? Wouldn’t that be good?” And I said, “no we’re not going to do that.” And so far, nothing’s happened on that.
The furor over the comment, which was blasted by Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing last Tuesday, has since caused the NRA to halfheartedly distance themselves from the speaker, but to little avail. The NRA is out of touch with the mainstream, plain and simple.
For the radical pro-gun activists in Congress, meanwhile, legislators looked far and wide in an effort to place the blame of gun violence on anything other than the guns themselves. Representative James Lankford (R-OK), the fifth-ranking House Republican, blamed gun violence on the children of “welfare moms.” Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) even took himself to MSNBC to offer this incredulous claim:
I think video games is a bigger problem than guns because video games affect people.
The big gun lobby and its yes men in Congress, it seems, are much more interested in protecting the loose regulations of the gun industry than they are with taking practical steps towards public safety. Other organizations dedicated to ending gun violence have begun noticing, with Americans United for Change even sending Congressional Republicans stickers to wear at the State of the Union that say “I Put Gun Maker $ Before Kids’ Safety”
The fact that the NRA and groups like it have such an outsized influence on this national debate is alarming, especially when poll after poll shows the overwhelming majority of Americans favor common sense proposals such as universal background checks. These voices of reason must not be drowned out by the radical pro-gun activists in this national discussion. Countless legislators behind closed doors have said that constituent feedback on this issue is the number one motivator for their position and level of passion on the proposed solutions. This week, legislators are back in their districts, so now is the time to act. Making a simple phone call or scheduling an in-person meeting is vital to keeping this issue on the forefront of legislators’ minds.