Before any smart, sensible legislative solutions can be signed into law to stop gun violence in the United States, citizens must fight for political change. First things first.
Second Amendment absolutists tend to be single-issue voters; they will support the candidate who will allow gun rights to supersede all others. It’s time to play their game. The vast majority of Americans — the people who support bans on assault weapons, limits on high-capacity magazines, better background checks and numerous other laws that would save lives — must become single-issue voters. Especially this year, when so many GOP House members are retiring, citizens can change Congress.
Start by following the money. In every congressional district, in every state race for U.S. Senate, in statewide and local elections, do not vote for politicians who receive hefty sums from the National Rifle Association. Check the records of incumbents. Not just their financial contributions, but their ratings from the NRA.
Call your representatives and ask about their records, or congratulate them if you approve. They can change, and will, if voters demand it. (Both New Mexico senators, for example, have lower NRA ratings now than they have earned in the past. A hunter, Sen. Martin Heinrich has a B rating from the NRA, while Sen. Tom Udall has a D rating, according to an article last week in The Washington Post. GOP Rep. Steve Pearce, a candidate for governor, is the only member of the congressional delegation with an A rating. That should be an issue come fall.)
Make guns an essential issue. It won’t hurt progressive causes. The men and women who will be voted into office because of their stance on sensible gun control likely will be acceptable on a host of other issues. For now, though, put guns first. At the most basic level, that will mean electing more Democrats, whether at the statehouse, Congress or eventually, the White House.
Republicans must be made to answer for their refusal to enact any legislation to control gun violence. After the massacre in Las Vegas, Nev., last fall, Congress couldn’t even muster the will to ban bump stocks, the accessory the shooter used to turn his weapons into killing machines.
Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman writes, “Again and again, in the aftermath of these massacres, media figures lament that ‘Washington’ and ‘politicians’ and ‘Congress’ can’t seem to get it together to act. But it is Republicans who have stopped any attempt to address gun violence. Not the city of Washington, not the system, not the institutions — Republicans. The Senate doesn’t filibuster every gun safety bill — Republicans do. The House doesn’t refuse to allow those bills to come to a vote — Republican leaders do. Washington didn’t pass a bill last year making it easier for people with mental illnesses to buy guns — Republicans in Congress did, and Trump signed it.”
The New York Times, in an editorial Friday, states bluntly, “The NRA can be beat” — the paper is correct. The midterms can deliver lasting change if citizens become angry, stay angry, and take that anger to the polls. The paper’s conclusion: “But the gun lobby’s stranglehold on our elected officials does not need to continue, if candidates stand up to the lobby and voters demand that they commit themselves to the sorts of changes that a vast majority of Americans want.
“With midterm elections coming up this fall, America has a chance to get that message across. Candidates must realize that reducing gun violence is a winning and moral issue. Aggressive turnout by voters who believe this can defeat the NRA at the polls. Until then, the bloodshed will continue.”
A potent voice, sadly, has been added to the debate — the young people from Parkland, Fla., where 17 students were killed last week by a 19-year-old armed with a semi-automatic rifle (in Florida, it is legal for teenagers to buy such guns). Senior David Hogg, interviewed on television: “My message to lawmakers in Congress is, please, take action. Ideas are great. Ideas are wonderful. But what’s more important is actual action, and pertinent action, that results in saving thousands of children’s lives. Please, take action.”
For that to happen, voters must act first. Do not elect politicians who enable the National Rifle Association. In 2018, every seat in the U.S. House of Representatives is up for election, as are more than 30 U.S. senators. All New Mexico House seats are on the ballot as well, and there’s a big prize — the governor of the state. Elect a governor who will sign sensible gun reform laws, and New Mexico might pass a law as basic as broadening its system of background checks.
Heck, some enterprising politician could introduce an amendment to the state constitution removing the prohibition on local governments passing any gun restrictions, or even rewriting a provision upholding gun rights. Maybe, then, the Santa Fe City Council could pass an ordinance forbidding attendees at council meetings from packing heat. We could pass local ordinances on safe storage of guns, requiring trigger locks and penalizing people who leave guns out for children and burglars to find.
First, though, voters must boot out the politicians in bed with the gun lobby. Do that. Sensible legislation will follow. When that happens, Americans will be safer in and out of school.