On Sunday, President Joe Biden attended a Catholic Mass in Uvalde, Texas, for the 19 children and two teachers who had been murdered at Robb Elementary School. When he emerged to protesters shouting “Do something!” he stood tall, pointed his finger at the crowd, and responded loudly, at least twice, “We will.”
Support for tighter gun laws will probably last only until Americans forget about Uvalde. Given that we are, as Gore Vidal called it, “the United States of Amnesia,” Democrats have a small window of time in which to act on gun control. But that’s okay, because Democrats don’t have much time before the midterms, either—now is the time for Democrats to put a big win on the board. A win on guns would not only protect children; it would shore up Biden’s anemic poll numbers and excite the Democratic base. If Democratic voters don’t show up this fall, it will be because they’ve lost faith in Democrats’ ability to deliver. And yet, Democrats seem to be terrified to deliver.
Well, many of them do. Not, seemingly, Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke, who showed up at a press conference about the Uvalde shooting and told off the current governor, Greg Abbott, saying, “You are doing nothing. You are offering up nothing. You said this was not predictable. This was totally predictable when you choose not to do anything.” I was incredibly gratified by Beto’s disruption. We want electeds who will fight for our values as hard as Republicans will fight against them.
Recent Democratic primary results seem to support this. In Georgia, Representative Lucy McBath easily defeated Representative Carolyn Bourdeaux, a member of Representative Josh Gottheimer’s “Unbreakable Nine,” the House group that has blocked Biden’s agenda and that was supported by the political organization No Labels. Two other members of the group have also been broken, or at least bent: Kurt Schrader of Oregon, who lost his primary despite having $1.3 million in funding, and Henry Cuellar of Texas, who is ensnared in a recount. In Pennsylvania’s Senate primary, meanwhile, John Fetterman crushed polite centrist Congressman Conor Lamb. Seems like a lot of Democrats don’t want to be represented by some focus-grouped, mealymouthed moderate who just wants to find common ground with Ted Cruz. Maybe because sensible people have no common ground with Ted Cruz.
Fetterman told me, “At a time when the other side has basically declared war on reality, and is willing to lie about something as fundamental as who won an election, it’s important that Democrats not only call out the BS, but take a stand and don’t back down from a fight. When the stakes are this high, we need more Democrats who are clear and confident about what we believe, refuse to apologize for it, and don’t run away scared every time Republicans call us names.”
As Ron Brownstein noted in The Atlantic, “Pew polling found that significant majorities of Americans support background checks (81 percent), an assault-weapons ban (63 percent), and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines (64 percent); a majority also opposes concealed carry of weapons without a permit.” Gun control is a winner for Democrats, and that’s why Republicans just want to run out the clock on it. “I really hope people don't speculate, don't jump to the usual political conclusions, don't call for these sweeping massive changes while people are grieving,” Kellyanne Conway said on Fox News’s The Five—as if taking no action and accepting gun violence as a given should be a comfort to someone who has just lost a child in a mass shooting. Once again, Democrats need to stop pretending that Republicans are good-faith actors.
If the GOP is hostage to its base, Democrats are on the run from their core voters. Whether it’s voting rights or debt forgiveness, when it comes to delivering a win for their base, Democrats seem unwilling or unable to deliver.
Before speaking at a Memorial Day observance on Monday, Biden said that Mitch “McConnell is a rational Republican. [Senator John] Cornyn is as well.” Maybe he was being ironic, or playing 16-dimensional chess. History clearly shows that Mitch McConnell will not ever do anything to protect Americans from guns. If he’s saying that he wants a bipartisan solution, it’s because he knows he can simply keep saying that until the moment passes. After Uvalde, McConnell told CNN, "I am hopeful that we could come up with a bipartisan solution." And after the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in 2016, he told reporters, "We’re open to serious suggestions from the experts as to what we might be able to do to be helpful.” Remember, this is the guy who, according to The Washington Post, refused a meeting with the Sandy Hook families.
What should Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer do, you ask? How about push Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to support a filibuster carve-out for an assault-weapons ban. (He should have also done this for voting-rights legislation.) The very conservative Supreme Court may try to overturn such a ban. Or maybe Manchin and Sinema won’t go for it, in which case, the blood of the next mass shooting is at least partially on their hands. But if nothing else, Schumer’s attempt would show the Democratic base whom to blame.
As Representative Rubin Gallego of Arizona tweeted at Sinema after she said she was “horrified and heartbroken by the senseless tragedy unfolding at Robb Elementary School,” “Please just stop.. unless you are willing to break the filibuster to actually pass sensible gun control measures you might as well just say ‘thoughts and prayers.’” And Schumer loves a show vote. When he does it to Republicans, it never works, because Republicans love to show that they vote on party lines. But with Sinema and Manchin, he may see a different result. And if he doesn’t, at least Schumer will have done what his constituents sent him to Washington to do.
At the state and local levels, Democrats should go after gun rights with the same twisted playbook that Republicans have used to go after a woman's right to choose. Throw open the doors for everyone—victims, families of victims, friends of victims—to sue gun manufacturers. New York should pass its own S.B. 8 for guns. Republicans pretend to love states’ rights. Let's see how they like it when blue states decide to fight back. Democrats might feel powerless, but it’s because they’re relying on an outdated playbook. It’s time to be brave, think big, and deliver for the American people.