“Every single day, about 100 people die from gun violence, 47 percent of them children or teenagers. Many of them could have been protected if we had the background check bill in place,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told me that same evening before highlighting the one thing that makes that legislation even more important than the other important bills the House has already passed. “This one has a life fuse on it. People will die. … Some of them could be saved if we pass the bill.”
I talked with Pelosi during the dinner break at the Brady Action Awards dinner in Washington, where I served as emcee. She and former president Bill Clinton, who signed the Brady Bill into law, were among the night’s honorees. Kris Brown, the president of Brady, pointed out that “many of these [shootings] happening are happening in communities that don’t make the headlines." She also called gun violence “a public-health epidemic.” And yet nothing is happening because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) serves as a roadblock.
“There’s one sentiment that will move him, and that is President Trump. He’s told me he will do what President Trump wants,” Pelosi said. “And I spoke to President Trump about this on the same day I spoke to him about some other things.” The exact date was Sept. 24, the day Pelosi formally announced the impeachment inquiry. “He called me to say, ‘I’m calling to tell you all the good news about what we’re doing for bipartisan gun violence prevention,’ ” recounted the speaker. “I said, ‘Well, I’ll be [happy] to hear that because I’m totally unaware of any of it.’ ”
Brown told me she and Brady have been active in McConnell’s backyard.
“I have talked with so many people from Kentucky. We actually have a very active chapter there. And many of them are involved because they were victims of gun violence themselves,” explained Brown. “I would encourage him to take time to actually talk to the people who are in this movement, who are victims of gun violence. It’s the human interaction that I think so many people see lacking, that is necessary in order to understand he is the person who can make a difference around this issue, if he chooses to do so.”
So far, McConnell has chosen to do nothing.
“We are not going away. Our movement outspent the NRA in 2018 five to one,” Brown said. “Any politician who’s looking at what’s happening has to understand that voters are tired and fed up about this issue.” She pointed to the Democratic takeover of the Virginia legislature, which she calls “a gun violence prevention majority,” as the prime example. Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) told NPR this month, “Dealing with the gun violence in Virginia will be a top priority of our administration.”
As Pelosi spoke, she tugged at a bracelet on her right wrist. “Every day, I wear this bracelet. It’s a bullet,” she said of the bangle made from ammunition and orange beads given to her by a House member from Florida, a state which has endured a number of shootings, including at the Pulse nightclub in 2016 and in Parkland in 2018. “[It’s] just a constant reminder of we just have to take action … we will not rest. And I’ve told that to even to the president. We are not going away. We are going to persist until we get this law passed.”
Again, the law is going nowhere as long as McConnell awaits a bat signal from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. So I asked Pelosi and Brown what they would say to McConnell if he were to walk into the holding room where the three of us were huddled around a big table before we went onstage.
“Real individuals are losing their lives as a result of this, every single day. And whether you are Republican or Democrat, you live in a red state or a blue state, Kentucky or California, you bleed the same,” Brown responded.
Pelosi’s point was equally stark and directed all members of Congress who might be afraid of the power of the NRA to bounce them from office.
“What I say to my colleagues all the time, you’re afraid for your political survival. Your political survival is totally unimportant compared to the survival of our children in our schools or people praying in church, just people going out for entertainment in the evening,” Pelosi said. “And if you’re afraid of taking the strong vote, just think how afraid those little children are, when they saw a gunman coming to their school.”
In September, I told you about an email from my friend Cheryl Pelicano about her high-school-age daughter Rosey. Cheryl told me in an email that morning that rather than wear the cute outfit of tights, dress and Vans that she had gotten approval to wear, Rosey appeared at breakfast in jeans and a sweater. “I asked her what happened to the outfit? She said, ‘I had a dream that there was a shooter and I wouldn’t be able to run in that outfit,’ ” Pelicano wrote.
My sister-in-law in North Dakota recently told me a story about her 5-year-old son Daniel. She said they were watching a segment on gun violence on MSNBC’s “AM Joy” when the 5-year-old told his mom that he wanted to play the flute when he got older. When she asked him if the reason was because his older sister Maria plays the instrument, he replied, “Mom, it is small enough to fit in my backpack to be a shield if a bad person comes to our school to shoot people.”
Yes, little children are afraid. How could they not be when the party that says it cares about life does nothing to protect theirs? As Brown said, “It’s not if the next shooting will happen, it’s just a matter of when.”
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