Opinion writer

THE MORNING PLUM:

The cardinal fact about the gun violence debate right now is that, broadly speaking, one party is far more serious than the other about even beginning to debate solutions that actually involve regulating guns. President Trump just tweeted that he will be pushing “comprehensive background checks with an emphasis on mental health,” but even if he means this, no such proposal that comprehensively improves background checks is going anywhere with Republicans in charge of Congress.

All of this underscores that Democrats badly need to win back ground on the level of the states. And as it happens, that provides an outlet for organizing on this issue.

Here is another fact about this debate: Some of the states that provide Democrats with their best opportunities to pick up gubernatorial mansions also happen to be states that rate poorly when it comes to state laws regulating guns. This provides a big opening.

Many of the major gubernatorial pickup opportunities for Dems — such as New Mexico, Maine, Nevada, Ohio, Michigan and Florida, where the latest massacre took place — also get dismal ratings for their gun-control laws in the most recent state-by-state ratings from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Five of those states have more gun deaths than the national average, and there may be a correlation between deaths and weak regulations. While these states do have some regulations, there is plenty of room for improvement.

In an interview with me today, Elisabeth Pearson, the executive director of the Democratic Governors Association — which tries to get Democrats elected as governors — told me that Democratic candidates will not shy away from talking about gun violence in their campaigns, even in deep purple states.

“It is an opportunity for Democratic candidates to lead,” Pearson said. “People in states everywhere are looking for people who will lead on this issue and actually talk about it. Republicans are terrified of taking on their base and the National Rifle Association, and are unable to lead because of that.”

As it happens, there is a model for how to do this: Ralph Northam’s successful gubernatorial candidacy in Virginia last year. While Northam struck a moderate tone, after the Las Vegas massacre he discussed gun violence through the prism of his experience as a doctor, and called for universal background checks and the restoration of a one-gun-per-month law. “He created a smart template — talking about his experience and beliefs,” Pearson said.

The Northam example is also a reminder that the cultural fault line on this issue is shifting — in a way that is causing Democrats to shift with it. As Ron Brownstein points out, the voter groups in the Democratic Party’s “coalition of transformation” — millennials; nonwhites; and college-educated, suburban, secular whites, especially women — are increasingly grouped on one side of the cultural divide over guns, arrayed against the GOP’s “coalition of restoration,” i.e., aging, rural and evangelical Christian whites, on the other side of it.

Northam’s victory was driven by juiced-up turnout among those Dem voter groups. Polling dissected by John Harwood shows that these groups continue to be more motivated right now, and it’s plausible that the failure of national Republicans to act on gun violence could help continue to energize them through the fall elections.

It’s true that Virginia may be evolving along with these cultural shifts faster than some of the other states facing big gubernatorial contests. But places such as Florida, Nevada, Michigan and Ohio nonetheless may offer fertile ground on which to press the issue. As Pearson told me, there are “huge populations” in “non-rural areas” in those states. “Those groups tend to be really important swing populations for us,” Pearson said. “This issue is going to be something they want candidates to lead on.”

By the way, this also has bearing on the battle underway for state legislatures across the country. Democrats have been racking up wins on that front, and some of the state houses they are hoping to flip are also in some of those states — Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Maine. Gaining ground there is also critical for hopes of future action.

CNN’s town hall on guns last night was only the latest illustration of the outpouring of raw energy we’re seeing on this issue. We keep hearing that gun-rights culture must be respected, which should be a non-controversial assertion. But it turns out that there are a lot of people on the other side of this cultural divide, as well — people who are not hostile to gun-rights culture but who also believe that it’s long past time for a serious, good-faith-based national debate over how to mitigate the carnage. Putting time and energy into winning back ground on the state level is a good outlet for this impulse.

* FLORIDA MAY HAVE TO ACT ON GUNS: The New York Times reports that Florida Republicans are feeling so much pressure to act after the massacre that a proposal is actually in the works:

State Senator Bill Galvano, a Republican, said in an interview that the Senate proposal would likely involve raising the age to purchase semiautomatic rifles to 21 from 18; introducing a three-day waiting period to purchase such guns; banning “bump stocks,” an attachment that enables a semiautomatic rifle to fire faster; and expanding the power of law enforcement to restrict the actions of mentally ill people under Florida’s Baker Act.

Interestingly, the Times piece notes that if something happens, it would be the first time a state fully controlled by Republicans enacted gun regulations on even this “modest scale.”

* FLORIDA SHERIFF ORDERS GUNS ON SCHOOL GROUNDS: The Associated Press reports:

The sheriff of the Florida county where a shooter killed 17 people at a high school last week has ordered all deputies who qualify to begin carrying rifles on school grounds. … The sheriff said the school district’s superintendent fully supports his decision.

See? There will be action in the face of the shootings.

* TRUMP’S PROPOSAL ON GUNS IS A NONSTARTER: Yesterday Trump floated the idea of arming teachers, but Politico explains why it almost certainly won’t go anywhere:

Such attempts nearly always hit strong opposition from teachers and community members. Even in states that have passed laws allowing school districts to make the decision, few school boards have bit. … Education groups … believe that having guns in a classroom makes that classroom less safe and that having teachers potentially carrying guns will only make a school shooting more confusing for police trying to stop it.

It’s unclear why this surprised everyone. Trump vowed during the 2016 campaign to end “gun free zones” at schools.

* RUBIO WON’T REBUFF NRA MONEY: At last night’s CNN town hall on guns, Sen. Marco Rubio was asked point blank by a young man who survived the shooting if he’d stop taking NRA money, and he demurred, saying his “Second Amendment” agenda has public support:

The Florida senator also said it is not the NRA’s money that has a large impact on gun policy. “The influence of these groups comes not from money,” Rubio said. “The influence comes from the millions of people that agree with the agenda, the millions of Americans that support the NRA.”

This has some truth to it, but far more Americans oppose the NRA’s agenda — by many orders of magnitude.

* BUT RUBIO TAKES A MASSIVE RISK ON GUNS: Rubio, confronted by a grieving father, also said he was open to raising the age requirement for rifles and to limits on high-capacity magazines. But The Post comments:

It was not a wholesale reversal. Rubio said he still didn’t favor an assault weapons ban. … Still, it … held the possibility of alienating Rubio from his party’s base, which could have long-term implications for the former presidential hopeful, whom friends and associates believe may run again someday.

With today’s Republican voters, even appearing open to these tiny steps puts any future presidential run in mortal peril, apparently.

* A DEEP IMBALANCE IN THE GUN DEBATE: We constantly hear that proponents of gun regulations must show more respect toward gun-rights culture. E.J. Dionne Jr. offers a great response:

What is odd is that those with extreme pro-gun views … are never called upon to model similar empathy toward children killed, the mourning parents left behind, people in urban neighborhoods suffering from violence, or the majority of Americans who don’t own guns. …the culture-war argument is largely a gimmick pushed by the gun lobby as a way of demonizing its opponents. None of us who endorse stronger gun laws wants to disrupt anybody else’s way of life. And none of the measures we are proposing would do that.

I’m pretty sure Dionne is subtweeting David Brooks here.

* TRUMP IS ‘REMINDED OF THE BASICS OF COMPASSION’: Everyone mocked the little card Trump clutched at the gun listening session, which said, “I hear you.” Julie Hirschfeld Davis adds a nice note:

During the session, Mr. Trump held a card that appeared to remind him of the basics of compassion when dealing with grieving survivors. “What would you most want me to know about your experience?” read one handwritten note on the card.

Trump is the most compassionate person in human history, believe me.