This post, from earlier this week, has been updated after House Democrats' overnight gun control sit-in.
First House Democrats walked out of an official moment of silence for the Orlando victims. Then Senate Democrats launched a 15-hour filibuster. Then gun control supporters amped up their messaging with stuff like this:
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) June 20, 2016
Now, House Democrats are staging their own version of a filibuster (which is a Senate-only thing) by seizing the floor overnight for a rare sit-in. They yelled at House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). They livestreamed the event when the C-SPAN cameras cut off. They broke an untold number of decorum and procedural rules.
All this to demand a change in gun policy we're not sure will actually change in the wake of the tragedy in Orlando. But for gun control supporters who are done playing nice, there are other ways to measure success. And for the first time in decades -- perhaps ever -- they and their base feel like the wind is at their backs. And the fact that their bold and sometimes aggressive tactics in the weeks after Orlando are a reflection of a nascent gun control movement that has found its feet.
Gun control supporters say reframing the gun debate in a with-us-or-against-us context is aimed at putting pro-gun Republicans in a tough spot politically — and helping them leverage the fact that 80 to 90 percent of Americans consistently support gun control policies like expanding background checks.
"It is now accurate to say that one party believes the Second Amendment extends to terrorists and the other party does not," said Jim Kessler, a leading gun control advocate with the centrist think tank Third Way.
Republicans, of course, would scoff at that. They proposed their own version of of letting people on the FBI's terrorist watch lists buy guns. Both proposals failed in a vote Monday in the Senate.
But this isn't all about legislative language -- at least, not in the near term. This is about November. This is about control of the Senate. This could even be about control of the House of Representatives. This is about gut reactions. Guns have the potential to be a major campaign issue in the presidential race, too. And if Democrats can actually win back some control of Congress, then they can pass new gun laws.
Months before the election, gun control supporters feel like they're making huge strides in closing the the glaring intensity gap between them and the NRA. It helps that their outsized, made-for-media tactics coincide with a more sophisticated gun control movement and a steady drip, drip, drip of mass shootings keeping America's attention on the issue.
Indeed, gun control groups think their caution-to-the-wind tactics this past week in Congress is a natural progression of their cause, born out of unfortunate events. The various groups that coalesced after the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre are now on the air in key Senate races and backing gun control ballot initiatives. They're texting their supporters to call their lawmakers, just like the NRA does, after every mass shooting. After Orlando, they're coordinating with the formidable LGBT advocacy community, which presided over one of the fastest shifts of public opinion in an issue in modern memory. They're getting the Republican-controlled Senate to allow votes on their proposals and, well, we'll see what happens in the House.
"After Sandy Hook, it took four months for the U.S. Senate to vote," said Erika Soto Lamb with the Michael Bloomberg-backed gun control group, Everytown for Gun Safety. "After Orlando, it took four days."
It's important to remember that success in the context of gun control is relative. Very relative. No gun control legislation has passed since the 1990s when Congress approved limited background checks. After more than 30 hours of filibusters and sit-ins, the votes just don't seem to be there to passing anything now, either.
Still, advocates are hopeful their enthusiasm will start to play a bigger role in vulnerable Republicans' campaigns. Look at vulnerable GOP senators like Sen. Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, who is in a tight reelection race with the state's popular Democratic governor, signaling she'd be open to at least some compromise.
During the past week, I’ve been working with Senator Collins & reaching out to our Democratic colleagues to find a path forward
— Kelly Ayotte (@KellyAyotte) June 20, 2016
That’s why I’ll be voting to advance both options before us today in order to provide an opportunity to come to a bipartisan compromise.
— Kelly Ayotte (@KellyAyotte) June 20, 2016
Moving the focus outside Washington, there's another reason gun control advocates sense that now is the time to throw out the rules and fight like hell for their cause. No longer is gun violence just an inner-city problem, Kessler said in a recent interview with The Fix. Guns have shattered Americans' sense of safety in the most benign places — a college campus, a nightclub, an office party, an elementary school.
There's a perception that gun violence could come anywhere, anytime to any lawmakers' districts. And when people are scared, they act.
"I just think every year or two -- like climate change -- we're breaking the record for worst mass shooting in America," Kessler said.
We'll find out in November if Kessler and his ilk are any closer to achieving the legislative and political successes that have eluded them for decades.
For right now, they'll have to settle with making a lot of noise about it.