Elaina Plott: The bullet in my arm
And in Pennsylvania, four Democratic women won suburban seats after touting gun reform—in districts formerly held by Republican men. Mary Gay Scanlon vowed on her campaign site to “reduce the plague of gun violence,” ranking it as a first-tier issue, with education and health care. Madeleine Dean had previously co-founded a gun-safety group, PA SAFE Caucus, and told the press in December, “Women will bring a different perspective to this [House] conversation. We are mothers, we are grandmothers—that’s what I am first and foremost when I talk about the issue of gun violence.” Susan Wild said during the campaign, “We are living in a country that is like the Wild, Wild West, but with AR-15s. To me, I hesitate to say this, but it’s only a matter of time until gun violence comes to the Lehigh Valley … I’m a huge advocate of sensible gun reform … I’m tired of all the talk, and I want action.” And Chrissy Houlahan has tweeted that she’s “still thinking of the Sandy Hook victims and their families,” and she feels a personal connection. Her cousin Peter was one of the first responders.
The climate change is profound, particularly when one recalls what happened 10 years ago, when President Barack Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, called for a restoration of the assault-weapons ban that Congress allowed to expire in 2004. The NRA quickly flexed its muscle, and 65 cowed House Democrats, many from swing districts, formally protested Holder. When Obama’s chief of staff passed the word that Holder should keep his mouth shut about guns, Holder quickly dropped the idea and simply said, “I respect the Second Amendment.”
Granted, new House Democratic calls for an assault-weapons ban, stronger background checks, and a lifting of the 23-year ban on federal firearms research will likely die in the Republican Senate. But Democrats—buoyed by their historic gains in suburban House districts, particularly among independents and Republican-leaning women—believe that gun-reform policy is good politics, with the goal of rebuilding the party’s brand for 2020.
And Democratic confidence is abetted by the recent rise of the well-funded gun-reform movement helmed by Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, and Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was seriously wounded in a mass shooting. Democrats are clearly more comfortable talking reform, knowing that the NRA is getting pushback at the grassroots level. Indeed, the NRA (which has its own problems right now, reportedly with Special Counsel Robert Mueller) and other gun-rights groups were actually outspent by gun-reform groups during the 2018 campaign, by roughly $2.4 million—a heretofore unthinkable development.
A little more than three years ago, the conservative activist Grover Norquist confidently declared, “When [Democrats] start to say … that people with guns are somehow connected to mass murders, that’s what turns voters off.” Democratic candidates will happily test that proposition in 2020. It’s a safe bet that none will wear duck-hunting clothes.