We can now be confident that last week’s massacre of 26 women and children at an elementary school in Newtown, CT, will not be swept under the carpet like so many mass shootings of the past.
President Barack Obama said Dec. 19 that he would act “without delay” after hearing from Vice President Joe Biden’s task force in January. We’ll probably spend much of the winter and spring debating Obama’s anti-violence proposal.
The question now is what the president — and the rest of us — can do to make sure that the National Rifle Association doesn’t once again intimidate enough members of Congress to gut the bill. The only answer is to build a smarter, more effective movement for common-sense gun laws than we have today, which means lots of meetings, marches, TV ads, door knocks and social- media campaigns.
Only the technology of movement-building has changed. Abolitionism, women’s suffrage, civil rights, conservation — every great stride forward in U.S. history has come from ordinary people defying the odds and bringing organized pressure to bear on politicians.
Any movement starts with its core legislative agenda. In this case, that means:
— Banning all assault weapons and high-capacity magazines for everyone except the military.
— Requiring instant background checks on all gun purchases, including those at gun shows and online.
— Providing law enforcement full access to all state and local databases on felons and the mentally ill.
— Making illegal gun trafficking a felony.
Until now, the NRA has disgraced itself by blocking each of these no-brainer reforms, mostly by putting tens of millions of dollars behind its lies. The best thing Obama did in his news conference was his attempt to drive a wedge between NRA members, most of whom favor reasonable gun-safety laws, and their hardline officers and board of directors.
With the NRA’s news conference on Dec. 21, we’re about to see if its tardy response to the Newtown shootings plays with the public. I have my doubts. Once a bully is exposed in harsh daylight, it can be harder to instill fear again.
To break the NRA’s stranglehold, reformers need to shake off the hangdog fatalism of the past. Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell often points out that he won three statewide elections against the gun lobby in a state that is second only to Texas in NRA membership.