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Horowitz: Parkland May Break Gun Legislation Stalemate

Tuesday, March 06, 2018


Rob Horowitz

While the political factors that have prevented any sensible gun safety legislation from advancing in Congress have not been erased, the senseless taking of 17 young lives in Parkland, Florida by a mentally disturbed former student firing a AR 15 rifle may be a tipping point. The rapid emergence of the survivors of this mass shooting as difficult to ignore spokespeople is providing compelling, sympathetic, telegenic and articulate voices that are breaking through and beginning to change the political calculations of key actors.  As David Hogg, one of the high school students that survived the killing, told CNN, “We are children. You guys are the adults. Work together, come over your politics, and get something done.”

One doesn’t need to look any further than President Trump who up until Parkland was in lock-step with the National Rifle Association (NRA).  He now is voicing support for expanded background checks, banning bump stocks that essentially turn rifles into machine guns, and raising the age by which one can buy a semi-automatic weapon to 21.  I am not asserting that Mr. Trump can be counted on to steadfastly maintain these positions, but the very fact that he felt the need to embrace some sensible gun control initiatives and to hold a televised conversation with Congressional leaders on the issue of school safety-- where he emphasized that he would stand up to the NRA --is a sign of shifting political winds.

Additionally, the increase in public support for common sense gun safety measures in the wake of Parkland as measured in opinion polls is much more pronounced than the movement after previous mass shootings. As reported by Politico, “Support for stricter gun laws has spiked in polls conducted after the fatal South Florida school shooting, hitting its highest level in at least a quarter-century.”  For example in a recent CNN poll, 70% of registered voters now say they back stricter gun laws, up from 52% who said they supported stricter gun laws soon after the Vegas mass shooting in Oct. 2017.

At the margins, new research by Rand Corporation will buttress the case for common-sense gun safety measures. As summarized by Vox, the extensive analysis“ suggests that restrictive laws seem to lead to fewer gun deaths, while the permissive laws seem to lead to more gun deaths.”

This new-found political energy for gun control measures is unlikely to result in sweeping national legislation.  The NRA remains formidable and Republicans, who are still by and large opposed to gun safety legislation, remain in control of the House and Senate. But the need to demonstrate some action does make possible the adoption of incremental universal background checks and the banning of bump stocks in the near future.  Raising the age limit for purchasing certain kinds of weapons still seems unlikely, but now there is at least an opening to advance that initiative.  Restoring the assault weapon is still highly unlikely to gain any traction—at least in the short-term.

More sweeping measures are likely to pass in politically receptive states—the many states where the NRA do not have as firm a grip as they do in our nation’s capital. Most promising is the prospect of the widespread adoption of so-called “Red Flag Laws” that would allow courts to temporarily take guns out of the hands of people deemed to be a threat to themselves of others.  Today, there are only 5 states that have adopted this measure.   In the wake of Parkland, however, many more states appear to be moving forward to put this common-sense protection in place.  These states include Rhode Island where Governor Raimondo recently issued an Executive Order on the topic and where legislation required to fully implement the practice is expected to pass the General Assembly.

Parkland survivor, Javier Lovera, tweeted, “We are too young to be losing friends like this.”  These teenage survivors and the “Never Again” movement they have unleashed are difficult for all, but the most hard-hearted or ideologically certain to ignore.  These few powerful youthful voices have awakened us in a way that the cold statistics of close to 40,000 gun deaths nationally each year never could. It is now up to we adults to rise to the moment.


Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor at University of Rhode Island.


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