New Democratic Unity Can Overpower the NRA

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The following is an adaptation of remarks delivered at a candidate forum on gun safety in Des Moines, Iowa. The forum was sponsored by Mike Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action.

This has been a tragically sad week in America.

But we are ending the week on a hopeful note — because all of you are here today. You’re here because you know America can answer this challenge and because you refuse to settle for thoughts and prayers when we need actions and laws.

The fact is, 30 Americans are murdered with guns every day. Very few of those murders make national news.

But think about it: That’s the equivalent to multiple mass shootings every 24 hours. And, on top of that, another 61 people commit suicide with guns every day.

We can save so many of those lives — but only if we organize and demand action.

It says a lot about how much you’ve accomplished that so many presidential candidates are here. As I’m sure many of you remember, it used to be that lots of Democratic candidates would say: Yes, we agree with you, but we can’t touch the issue — because the National Rifle Association will come after us.

Back then, the NRA had the field to itself — in both parties. But then you showed up, and times have changed.

This reflects something that’s very important and very powerful. There has never been more unity on gun safety across so many Democratic presidential candidates — and across the entire Democratic Party — as there is today. Now we’ve got to take the unity we’ve built and translate it into action in Washington.

So let’s say this in a voice loud enough that they will hear us in Congress and the White House: We are demanding that the Senate pass, and that the president sign, strong background-check laws and other gun-safety legislation without delay.

If they don’t, we will hold them accountable. And we’ll make sure every voter in America understands that in 2020 they have a choice between candidates who stand up for a family’s safety — and those who bow down to special interests.

The big reason for the historic unity in the Democratic Party is that we’ve built a grassroots army with 6 million supporters. In the 2018 elections — unlike in years past — candidates all over the country ran and won on gun safety. In fact, in the races where we got involved, we replaced 19 members of Congress who had “A” ratings from the NRA with 19 “gun sense” candidates.

Once they got into office, these candidates kept their promise to take action. Thanks to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s strong leadership, the House passed a comprehensive background-check bill. It also voted to close the “Charleston loophole,” which allows people to buy guns before a background check is completed.

It was the first time in 25 years that either house of Congress passed a major gun-safety bill, no matter which party was in charge.

So the good news is: We have historic unity in the Democratic Party on guns.

But we’re only halfway there.

In the Republican Party, we still have a lot of work to do. Republicans in the Senate have refused to act on the House bills — and on a “red flag” bill that would help keep guns out of the hands of those with a serious mental illness.

This week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he was willing to consider those issues. In Washington, that counts as progress. But saying and doing are two very different things.

Just look at President Donald Trump. This week, he said he supported stronger background checks. Unfortunately, after the Parkland shooting 18 months ago, he said exactly same thing. And then the NRA told him to drop it, so he did — immediately. He didn’t have the guts to oppose the NRA then, and now he faces the same choice.

Earlier this week, Wayne LaPierre, who runs the NRA, spoke to the president and told him to drop his support for stronger background checks. So now the president can either find the backbone to stand up to the NRA or, once again, he can bow down to the NRA and kiss Wayne’s ring.

I hope the president gets the courage to work with both houses of Congress to pass stronger laws, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

In politics, breaking with your allies isn’t easy. I know. But standing up to special interests is what leadership is all about. There’s only one person who gets to sit at the desk in the Oval Office. And if he or she isn’t strong enough to make executive decisions based on what’s right, then we should vote that person out and get someone who is.

In this case, however, it shouldn’t even be a hard political decision. Polling shows that the vast majority of NRA members support stronger background checks. And at the same time, the NRA is in shambles. We’ve all seen reports about the infighting and investigations into corruption and illegal activity.

Which is why the president should be afraid — but not of the NRA. He should be afraid of the American people. Because in 2020, we are going to show how strong our movement has grown, and we are going to elect a president who will lead on gun safety instead of making lame excuses.

Blaming video games and the internet is just the usual dodge. Every country has them. But only in America do we have the mass slaughter of innocent people with guns every single day. The president referred to “American carnage” in his inauguration speech. Well, that carnage is being inflicted with guns — and we have to hold him accountable for stopping it.

This time has to be different.

Now, I’ve devoted a lot of my life — and a lot of money — to this work.

When I was mayor of New York City, I saw the tragic consequences of guns up close and personal. Telling parents that their child is not coming home is about the hardest thing you can do in life. And it never gets easier. No parent should ever have to bury a child.

All I could do in delivering a eulogy was tell those parents — or the spouse, or the family — that my administration and I would do everything we could to try to save others from suffering their grief.

And we did. We cut murders in half while also cutting the number of people behind bars by 36 percent. And we went after irresponsible out-of-state gun dealers and won court orders that forced them to follow the law.

Since I’ve left office, I’ve expanded our national work, and thanks to all of you, we’ve made a lot of progress. More than 20 states have strengthened their gun laws over the past two years, and that includes 11 states with Republican governors who signed those bills and deserve credit for bucking the gun lobby.

Our message is breaking through. However, the reality we face today is more lethal and complicated. It’s not just criminals and psychopaths who are gunning down people — it’s white supremacists trying to mass-murder African Americans; it’s xenophobes trying to mass-murder Latinos; it’s Islamophobes trying to mass-murder Muslims; it’s homophobes trying to mass-murder the LGBTQ community; it’s anti-Semites trying to mass-murder Jews; and it’s other hate-filled people who see automatic weapons as a way to advance their poisonous ideology.

There’s been a lot of discussion about whether President Trump bears some responsibility for what happened in El Paso. Of course he does. Words matter. Words have consequences. And the more you ramp up the hateful and extreme rhetoric, the more hateful and extreme behavior you get.

Being a leader comes with responsibility. People notice how you comport yourself. They listen to what you say. If you are duplicitous, it sends a signal that being duplicitous is OK. If you say things that are racist, it sends a signal that being racist is OK.

If, however, you explain to people that we’re all in this together, and you work to unite people around common goals, then you can bridge divisions and heal tensions.

Here in this room, and around the nation, we are united together in saying: No guns without background checks. No guns for terrorists or criminals or domestic abusers. No guns for minors or those who are a danger to themselves or others. And no votes for candidates who stand in the way.

Most of the candidates running for president are here today. I can’t say I agree with all of them on every issue — and you probably don’t, either. But I think we’d agree that all of them are better than the alternative.

Make no mistake: This is not going to be an easy election. In order to win in 15 months — and in order to get a bill through the Senate — we need to keep demanding that candidates put this issue front and center. We have to make sure that the historic unity we’ve achieved on guns produces real action in Congress. And if doesn’t, we have to make sure that all of those who stood in the way face the consequences on Nov. 3, 2020.

Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News. He is the UN secretary-general’s special envoy for climate action.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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