OP-ED: Senators running for president: This gun bill is your first major test
It goes without saying that the House passage of measures that would strengthen our nation’s background check system and expand background checks to every single gun purchase is a major step toward building safer American schools and communities. It’s a significant win for the millions of Americans who took to the streets last year to demand congressional action to help solve our national gun crisis.
Background checks, after all, have stopped 3.5 million gun sales and saved hundreds of thousands of lives. States that require background checks for all handgun sales have lower rates of intimate partner gun homicides of women, law enforcement officers killed with handguns and gun-related suicides.
This legislation will provide a critical foundation for raising the federal floor for firearm ownership in America and ensuring that only people who can prove that they’re able to own and store a gun responsibly can own one. That’s precisely why every single senator who supports background checks should immediately begin discussing the bold policies we need to build a future with fewer guns — and not stop until the Senate holds a vote on the first step toward that goal: universal background checks.
This is doubly true for the senators who are running for president.
For them, this is a major first test. If you are vying to be our future leader, demonstrate that you’re able to lead us toward a safer future by showing us you can overcome the NRA’s influence and push through legislation that over 97 percent of Americans support.
Ever since we aggressively called out lawmakers for simply tweeting “thoughts and prayers” and rejected their B.S. in the aftermath of the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, our leaders vowed to take on the National Rifle Association, and we did all we could to help them.
Countless Americans, including hundreds of thousands of young people, marched in the streets, knocked on doors, phone-banked, wrote letters, organized our communities, and repeatedly called and visited — at times even protested! — our lawmakers. As a result of our tireless advocacy, dozens of NRA-sponsored lawmakers lost their seats in the midterm elections, the NRA’s approval ratings plummeted, membership revenues dropped, and dozens of corporations broke business ties with the deadly organization.
Our work created the conditions for the progress we’ve made thus far; it significantly weakened the NRA and allowed the House to advance this critical piece of legislation. Now, our senators must hold up their part of the bargain. It’s their turn to fight the gun lobby and win.
That lobby has poured over $1 million into the campaign coffers of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, ensuring that he will prevent the the world’s most deliberative body from even debating legislation that an overwhelming majority of Americans — and gun owners — support. President Donald Trump, who was paid $30 million by the NRA, and initially backed universal background checks, has issued a veto threat against the legislation.
Senators who hugged us in the wake of tragedy, marched with us in the streets, looked into our eyes when we visited their offices and promised us that they would do everything in their power to ensure gun tragedies don’t befall one more American community, have an obligation to call their bluff.
The NRA has lost its political clout and much of its power. The champions of gun reform in the Senate must take advantage of these new political dynamics. They must use their platforms to publicly shame NRA-subsidized lawmakers into putting the wishes and lives of their constituents ahead of their political contributions and allow for a real debate about the need to significantly regulate the products the gun industry manufactures, require gun owners to obtain a firearm license, and invest real federal dollars into community-based violence intervention programs.
We cannot pave the way for these longer-term reforms without first enacting universal background checks. It’s time for our senators to act. Our lives depend on it.
— Igor Volsky is the executive director of Guns Down America, an organization advocating for fewer guns. His forthcoming book, “Guns Down,” is due out in April. He was previously a vice president at the Center for American Progress.