By now, the NRA is banking on us having moved on from the last massacre.
The images have started to fade from the latest grisly horror show in which innocent people -- just like you or me -- are mowed down in a public place by a madman with a gun raining bullets on a crowd. They are betting that the scene isn’t as shocking as it was 18 years ago at Columbine High School.
We’re so familiar with the subsequent “thoughts and prayers” stanza that it starts trending on Twitter before the body count is finalized. And the hubris of the National Rifle Association is so great that it is scheduled to begin running ads in Virginia’s gubernatorial race eight days after the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.
Those of us still disgusted, heartbroken and angry about Las Vegas, Orlando, Charleston, San Bernardino, Newtown, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora -- and yes, Columbine -- can find hope in the NRA’s calculated disregard of the dead.
The powerful gun lobby, which opposes virtually every form of gun regulation, is drunk on its $36 million investment in a winning presidential candidate and a Republican-controlled Congress willing to kneel before its demands. And why not? While a horrified public has watched mass shootings increase, lawmakers at state and federal levels continue to make it easier to buy and carry guns. It’s easy to look at this trend and say that if Congress couldn’t pass universal background checks after the mass slaughter of first-graders in their classrooms, then nothing will ever move them to enact policies that will reduce gun-related deaths.
That’s a fundamental miscalculation of how this type of social change will happen. The NRA has unquestionable spending power, with an annual operating budget of about a quarter of a billion dollars and the ability to spend 15 times as much on campaign contributions as gun control advocates. Its greatest strength, however, is its energized and committed base willing to call and write legislators and vote on unfettered access to guns as a single issue.
But the NRA’s managed to galvanize more than just its base; it’s galvanized mothers.
After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, Shannon Watts founded Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. They started with 4,500 active members and now have 60,000. There are active, committed volunteers in every state, including deep-red ones like Missouri. Congressional candidates are coming to these Moms meetings in St. Louis and organizing on the issue of gun safety laws. That has happened through the power of grassroots action, by an expanding platform on social media and by the growing disgust every time there’s another senseless attack.
Our society isn’t building up a tolerance to gun violence; it’s building up to a tipping point against it.
In our lifetimes, policies on all sorts of issues have moved in ways that people didn’t think were possible. Look at the change in public attitudes toward gay marriage, smoking and health care. Now, we’re seeing the beginnings of a similar shift on gun safety. Public attitudes are shaped by a growing number of voices saying “enough.”
Mainstream late-night television host Jimmy Kimmel nearly broke down during an emotional monologue the day after the attack in Las Vegas. He talked convincingly and from the heart about the need for basic, common-sense gun reform. That is not the sort of testimony America has seen from a comedian.
The same day, a country music guitarist -- who played at the outdoor concert where he saw a gunman kill 59 and injure more than 500 people -- publicly defected from the NRA crowd.
“I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd Amendment my whole life,” Caleb Keeter wrote on Twitter, “until the events of last night. I can’t express how wrong I was.”
The lead guitarist for the Texas-based Josh Abbott Band noted, “We actually have members of our crew with (concealed handgun licenses), and legal firearms on the bus. They were useless,” he wrote. “We couldn’t touch them for fear police might think we were part of the massacre and shoot us.”
He summed up what so many Americans have felt: ”Enough is enough.”
This is the NRA’s base slowly starting to turn away from propaganda. Multiple studies show a downward trend in gun ownership among American households over the past 20 years. About 90 percent of Americans support background checks for every gun sale. Nine states have universal background checks.
With each attack, it’s harder to convince the public that a person’s right to own a semiautomatic assault weapon outweighs a child’s right to not be killed at school. Each time there’s a gruesome attack and Congress takes no action, it moves the needle. Every election where the NRA flaunts its multimillion-dollar moneybags in the wake of a national tragedy, it motivates voters to push back against absolute power.
No political party stays in power forever.
An army of mothers, a late-night comedian and a country band guitarist will help bring about the change that so many believe is out of reach.
Stick around for the long game.