Once upon a time candidates for political office – in both parties – stayed away from the issue of gun violence. The National Rile Association (NRA) and the gun lobby controlled the discussion, and any candidate who dared cross them would face almost certain defeat. The NRA was the most powerful and feared lobby organization in the country.
Times have certainly changed. Not only are politicians on both sides of the aisle willing to talk about sensible gun legislation, they are running, and winning, on the issue. Part of that shift is the growing influence of groups like Everytown for Gun Safety and Giffords that have focused on reducing the 40,000 deaths per year from gun violence.
As the power of the NRA is waning, politicians are taking note of who now has the ability to help get them elected. In 2018, for the first time ever in an election cycle, gun safety groups outspent the gun lobby by almost $2.4 million dollars. Candidates across the country who earned the endorsement of the gun safety group, Moms Demand Action, won 80% of their races.
In years past, an “A” rating from the NRA would be on every piece of campaign literature, but now some candidates proudly tout their “F” rating to sway voters to support them. In some races, the NRA has become toxic.
Even in Texas – where challenging the NRA was a death knell – things are beginning to shift. Congressional candidates like Lizzie Fletcher and Collin Allred, who both campaigned on reducing gun violence in Texas, defeated NRA-backed Republicans. The state legislature, which passed Campus Carry and Open Carry laws – is changing. In 2017, gun safety groups defeated the NRA bills pushing for “Permit-less Carry” and “Guns Everywhere.”
In the current legislative session, a Republican lawmaker has filed a bill that would make it a felony rather than a misdemeanor to leave an unsecured firearm that a child uses to harm themselves or another person.
Late last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, the first meaningful gun legislation in over 20 years. The universal background check bill, H.R. 8, requires background checks on all firearm sales in the country. (Currently, only licensed gun dealers must perform background checks for anyone seeking to purchase a firearm.) The bill no doubt will face significant opposition in the GOP-controlled Senate.
But the tide is beginning the turn – toward the safety of our children, family members, and neighbors and away from the NRA. Let’s keep our foot on the gas.
Michele Still is a gun safety advocate in Houston.