Third Way Perspectives

Subscribe via RSS

Posts Tagged ‘Guns’

Gun Violence Too Close to Home

May 28th, 2014

by

Until last weekend, I thought I understood better than most that so long as gun laws remain weak and rife with loopholes and our mental health system continues to let people fall through the cracks, gun violence can happen anywhere. After all, I’ve been to Newtown and met with the Sandy Hook parents in a neighborhood that looks just like the one where I grew up. And the Navy Yard shooting last fall that claimed 12 innocent lives took place only blocks from my Washington, D.C. apartment. But it didn’t really sink in until I woke up Saturday morning to discover that overnight six students at my alma mater were gunned down or stabbed to death in Isla Vista, California, with another 13 injured. It happened in the neighborhood where I lived for years as a college student at the University of California, Santa Barbara; in the neighborhood where my brother lives now as a post-doctoral researcher at that same university. Victims who were targeted for being young college women, just like my little sister—who only decided at the last minute to attend UCLA rather than UCSB.

In two weeks I am flying back to California to watch her graduate—but now six families just like mine will be attending funerals, not graduations. I don’t know what cracks the shooter fell through in our imperfect system that allowed him to pass a background check and purchase guns. But I do know now that current gun laws are not sufficient to keep me and family and friends safe.

Yet many Americans don’t have that knowledge. I envy them, in a way, because it means that senseless and preventable gun violence has never infringed so personally on their lives. But it is precisely that knowledge divide that makes common sense gun laws so hard to pass, despite strong public support in national polls.

Take Third Way’s latest poll, for instance—released less than two weeks before the mass murder at UCSB. On one hand, 84% of moderates—who make up more than a third of the American electorate—and 81% of all Americans supported expanding criminal background checks for gun purchases. But at the same time, 58% of moderates and 60% of all Americans also said that they already think current gun laws are sufficient to protect to them and their communities. Gun violence doesn’t happen in neighborhoods like theirs, they feel, so these laws don’t really affect them.

This tension between generally supporting background checks but believing that they are unnecessary for their families’ protection led to moderates dividing right down the middle when we asked whether the country needs more government ground rules on guns, or whether it should put more trust in individuals. Unlike liberals, who by an overwhelming 58 points said that we need more government ground rules, or conservatives who preferred trusting individuals by more than 40 points, only nine points separated the 53% of moderates who chose more ground rules over the 44% who said to trust individuals. Guns safety advocates and their champions in elected office too often overlook these conflicted moderates. Instead of talking past them, we need to talk to them—recognize that they are torn on this issue and that the half of American homes that own guns want safe neighborhoods just as much as the half that don’t.

This weekend, yet another community was forced to come to the terrible realization that without stronger guns laws and a better mental health system, nowhere is truly safe—even a beach town full of college students on a holiday weekend. I was lucky. It’s been five years since I graduated, or I might have been out with friends getting fro-yo at 9:30 on a Friday. My brother was out of town, ironically enough visiting my sister at her college campus for the weekend. But six kids weren’t, and now they aren’t coming home. Passing gun laws isn’t easy, especially given the disconnect many Americans feel exists between gun laws and their own lives. But it’s so much less painful than the alternative, as we saw again last weekend.

The Promise: The Sandy Hook Families and the Long Road to Gun Safety

July 15th, 2013

by

Just weeks after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary that killed 20 first-graders and six adults, the parents and families of some of the victims came to Washington. They were here to meet with the Vice President, cabinet members and Senators. But they didn’t come just to receive high-level condolences—they were here to wade into some of the roughest waters in American politics: the gun debate.

Third Way was called upon to help the families navigate those waters and master the policy and politics of guns. We have been working closely with them ever since.

Now, I’ve written about that experience in a new essay published by the Brookings Institution.

“The Promise”—the second installment in the new “Brookings Essay” series—is a multi-media, multi-platform, long-form product that explores the politics of guns in the context of Sandy Hook. It tracks the transformation of Sandy Hook Promise, the group that organized the families, from a deeply sympathetic victim-advocacy organization into a force to be reckoned with in the modern gun debate.

It’s quite a story, and Brookings has done a great job of making it come alive with illustrations, video, photos and other resources. I hope you’ll take a look.

Read “The Promise” by visiting www.brookings.edu/ThePromise.

Obama mobilizes his New America

January 23rd, 2013

by

There’s a reason why President Barack Obama has chosen to put gun control at the top of his second-term agenda. No issue draws as bright a line between the Old America and the New America as the gun issue. It will keep his coalition mobilized – the New America coalition that delivered for him in the election: working women, single mothers, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Jewish and Muslim voters, young people, gays and educated professionals.

Obama paid tribute to the New America in his second Inaugural Address on Monday. “We possess all the qualities,” Obama declared, “that this world without boundaries demands, youth and drive, diversity and openness, of endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention.”

Obama insisted “our journey is not complete” until the country finds a “better way to welcome striving hopeful immigrants,” until “our wives, mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts,” until “our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law” and until all our children – including those on “the quiet lanes of Newtown” – know that they are “always safe from harm.”

According to the January Washington Post-ABC News poll, 68 percent of Democrats do not have a gun in their household.  Fifty-nine percent of Republicans do. Among Democrats, 53 percent say passing stricter gun control laws should be given the highest priority; only 19 percent of Republicans feel the same way.

Read the rest of this entry »

On gun control, taxes and other issues, Democrats must seize this moment

January 4th, 2013

by and

This piece was originally published in The Washington Post.

The collapse of John Boehner’s effort to get his party to rally behind a plan to raise taxes reveals the disarray and disagreement among Republicans. Democrats are urging them to forget about the hard-liners and go back to the negotiating table.

That’s good advice for Democrats as well.

If Democrats play their cards right, a combination of political and demographic forces, and dangerous precipitating events, could create a tipping-point moment, when they can advance their priorities not just on taxes, but also on guns, marriage for gays and lesbians, immigration, and even climate change.

Read the rest of this entry »

What’s on the Ballot?

October 16th, 2012

by

Voting via Flickr

The Presidential & Congressional elections are not the only important votes on the November 2012 ballot. Several states will also ask voters to weigh in on key ballot initiatives that could have national implications. We’ve put together a guide to some of the most important initiatives and referenda below. We’ll update this cheat sheet after the election so that you can see how they fared with voters in their states!

Read the rest of this entry »

NRA is real winner on gun laws

July 23rd, 2012

by

This piece was originally posted on Politico.

Nothing will happen. That seems to be the consensus among policy experts after the senseless tragedy in Aurora, Colo., last week.

In the past, after sensational instances of gun violence, whether it was a celebrated person getting shot or the massacre of innocent children, we’d see a surge of support for new gun control measures. No longer. We didn’t see much of a policy response to the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona last year or to the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida this year.

The National Rifle Association has won. It has succeeded in changing the national discussion from gun control to gun rights. How did that happen?

For one thing, Americans have lost confidence in gun control measures. Gallup has been polling on the issue since 1959. Last October, Gallup reported “support for a variety of gun control measures at historic lows.”

Should there be a law banning the possession of handguns except by the police and other authorized persons? In 1959, 60 percent said yes. In 2011, 26 percent said yes. Should it be illegal to manufacture, sell or possess assault weapons? Last year, for the first time, a majority of Americans said no.

Why the shift? Here’s one reason: By and large, Democrats have stopped talking about the gun issue. It’s too costly for them. In September 1994, the Democratic Congress passed an assault weapons ban and President Bill Clinton signed it. In November 1994, Democrats lost their majority in the House for the first time in 40 years. Clinton said the gun lobby had to lot to do with his party’s defeat.

Since 1994, Democrats have been skittish about the gun issue. The assault weapons ban was allowed to lapse in 2004. Getting it renewed has not been high on President Barack Obama’s agenda.

During the 2004 presidential campaign, I met with a group of voters in West Virginia. West Virginia used to be a solid New Deal Democratic state. The late Sen. Robert Byrd was the embodiment of that tradition. But in the last three presidential elections, West Virginia has gone Republican.

I asked the voters how many of them had health insurance. Only three out of 10 did. I asked them which candidate would be more likely to help the uninsured. Most of them said John Kerry, the Democrat. So were they planning to vote for Kerry? Almost all said no. “Why not?” I asked.

“We hear he wants to take away our guns,” one member of the group said.

“Are your guns more important than your health insurance?” I asked.

“Mister,” one woman replied, “our guns ARE our health insurance.”

Read the rest of this entry »