After 17 students and staff members were slain in hallways and classrooms at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., earlier this year, the surviving students spurred a groundswell of activism. Nationwide, Americans marched in the streets, declaring they were through tolerating the massacre of innocent people in schools, churches, nightclubs, movie theaters and concerts. And they promised that come November, they’d be sending politicians that message.
Between the Parkland shooting and now, 10 people were killed in another high school in Texas, 11 Jewish people in a synagogue in Pittsburgh and then late Wednesday night 12 people, probably college students, in a bar in California. And those are just high-fatality mass shootings. It doesn’t include the five journalists killed in their newsroom in Annapolis or the shooting in the middle of a yoga class less than a week ago — which won’t make any lists because of the seven victims, only two women died.
This has become the tragic norm in the United States.
But something does seem to have shifted Tuesday night.
Yes, the Parkland activists were disappointed that pro-gun rights candidates won statewide in their home state (though the Florida governor and Senate races are now headed for a recount), but around the country candidates who ran unapologetically on a gun-control message scored huge victories.
Instead of shying away from the guns issue for fear of the powerful pull of the National Rifle Association, Democrats put it front and center in their campaigns. Especially in the suburbs — where Democrats saw huge gains Tuesday night — anti-gun-violence groups spent millions, collectively investing more in federal races than the NRA.
And Thursday, as news of another mass shooting settled in, Democrat Lucy McBath, a gun-control advocate who lost her son in a fatal shooting in 2012, sealed her victory in a Georgia House district once held by Newt Gingrich. McBath, who was inspired to run after Parkland, ran on her personal story.
“It is unfortunately not surprising that on the very same day I officially became a congresswoman-elect, other families in this country are receiving the same exact call that I did six years ago when I learned my son had been murdered,” she said in a statement. “As a congresswoman, but more importantly as a mother, I pledge to do every thing I can to make our communities safer.”
In another win for gun-control advocates, Democrat Jason Crow beat incumbent Rep. Mike Coffman (R) in a Colorado district that includes Aurora, the Denver suburb where 12 people were killed in a movie theater in 2012, not far from Columbine High School. Crow, a U.S. Army Ranger veteran, told The Washington Post last week: “The convention in swing districts like this is, don’t take it on, not in a purple or light blue district. It’s a wedge issue. But I believe the danger is in not taking this on anymore.”
Another notable win was Jennifer Wexton, the Democrat who crushed incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock (R) in Virginia, where gun policy was a huge dividing line between the candidates.
With the dramatic increase in mass gun violence, public opinion on guns policy has shifted significantly in recent years. While Americans are about evenly split on banning assault weapons, a whopping 92 percent say there should be background checks on all gun sales, according to Gallup polling.
The Democrats winning the House is also a major boon for gun-control advocates, who will now push their candidates to take up anti-gun-violence legislation. While it will go nowhere in a GOP-led Senate and with President Trump in the White House, it will give the issue a major edge in the 2020 presidential campaign if House Democrats push it.
And there’s past precedent for bipartisan action. Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in which 20 6- and 7-year-olds were murdered, several Republicans voted in favor of making incremental changes to gun laws, such as background checks. It was narrowly defeated but suggested there is room for compromise.
The Senate map for 2020 is not as friendly for Republicans as it was this year. Sens. Susan Collins in Maine and Cory Gardner in Colorado and even Thom Tillis in North Carolina may not want to go up against the powerful gun-control lobby.