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Opinion Voters sent a message in the midterms: Enough is enough on guns

People comfort each other as they stand near the scene on Nov. 8 in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where a gunman opened fire Wednesday inside a country dance bar.
People comfort each other as they stand near the scene on Nov. 8 in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where a gunman opened fire Wednesday inside a country dance bar. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

AMERICANS WOKE Thursday morning to the sickening news of yet another mass shooting. The crime offered a kind of tragic punctuation to a message that midterm voters sent their government on Tuesday. That message: It is time to do more than lower flags and send thoughts and prayers.

This time the carnage was at a country-western dance hall in Thousand Oaks, in Southern California. This time, 12 people, including an unflinching first responder, were gunned down. “The young kids, they were just having a good time. . . . Enjoying themselves. None of them deserved this at all,” one shellshocked witness told CNN.

None of them ever does.

That the shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill came just 11 days after a gunman massacred 11 people at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh underscored the crisis that is posed by gun violence. This year, there have been more than 300 mass shootings. Those are in addition to the accidental shootings, domestic killings, gang homicides and suicides that don’t garner national headlines.

Opinion | The Washington Post Editorial Board appeals to Trump and Congress to stand up to the gun lobby and prevent mass shootings. (Video: The Washington Post)

Gun violence is a national emergency and a public-health crisis — a crisis that could be ameliorated, without depriving anyone of their constitutional rights, if the nation chose to take it seriously.

Hopefully — if Tuesday’s midterm elections are any indication — that finally may begin to happen. There has been a shift in the politics of gun control; no longer is it a third rail to be avoided at all costs. In Washington state, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to strengthen the state’s gun laws. Across the country, Democrats who openly supported sensible gun law reform won House seats and some governorships. “My generation has been defined by gun violence. We have been defined by continued and repeated inaction by our elected officials,” said Stephen Paolini, 22-year-old campaign manager for Washington’s Initiative 1639. “I hope tonight this victory is a message to our elected officials: Enough is enough.”

Such groups as the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Everytown for Gun Safety went toe to toe against the national gun lobby, helping defeat such longtime favorites of the National Rifle Association as Reps. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) and Pete Sessions (R-Tex.). In Kansas, NRA A-rated Kris Kobach (R) lost the governor’s race to Democrat Laura Kelly, an advocate of common-sense reforms. In Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, the winner was Lucy McBath (D), who spoke powerfully about the cost of gun violence after losing her son to it.

There clearly were other factors at play in these races, but as recently as five years ago it would have been unthinkable for candidates in Texas, Kansas and Georgia to campaign on gun reform. Sadly, a change in political thinking arises from the lengthening roster of grieving communities: Newtown, Conn.; Aurora, Colo.; Sutherland Springs, Tex.; Las Vegas; Parkland, Fla.; Thousand Oaks. “It couldn’t happen here” applies nowhere.

After the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Democrats staged an unprecedented sit-down on the House floor to call attention to the Republican refusal to even debate gun reform. In January, they will have the votes to do more than just protest. They should bring to the floor — and pass — common-sense legislation, such as comprehensive background checks, gun safety research and a ban on assault weapons. Mr. Paolini is right. “Enough is enough.”

Read more:

Helaine Olen: The Thousand Oaks massacre is more evidence the U.S. needs effective gun control now

Alyssa Rosenberg: The ‘good guy with a gun’ is Hollywood’s most dangerous lie

Ronald A. Klain: Democrats shouldn’t let 1994 guide them on guns

Richard Glover: How Australia beat the gun lobby and passed gun control

Robert Gebelhoff: This is how we save lives from gun violence