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How gun violence prevention finally became a winning political platform

A David Axelrod tweet now carries the same authority as white smoke emanating from a Sistine Chapel Papal conclave.  Last month Axelrod authoritatively declared a new piece of political conventional wisdom; Gun Violence Prevention is a winning political platform. 

Ending over 20 years of collective strategic advice and mythmaking from lesser political consultants, reviewing statewide exit polling of April 26th Connecticut, Maryland and Pennsylvania’s Democratic Presidential Primary voters, Axelrod tweeted that Presidential primary candidate Hillary Clinton drew significant electoral support over competitor Bernie Sanders among voters concerned about gun policy.  

{mosads}How did the standard political conventional wisdom become so ingrained and accepted?  What did it take to overcome the myth?   

The myth-making on the political toxicity of gun violence prevention has its roots way back in President Bill Clinton’s first term.  The disastrous 1994 mid-term election results (Republicans gained their first House majority in 40 years by switching 54 seats) was blamed on passage of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, said to stir up the NRA.  But the myth/conventional wisdom really took hold after Al Gore lost his home state of Tennessee and his 2000 presidential campaign.  

Widely remembered for hanging chads in Florida, and Bush v. Gore US Supreme Court decision, one can find any number of news articles pinning Gore’s loss to his strong support for gun violence prevention legislation.  One can’t separate however, Gore’s 2000 campaign platform from the 1999 national trauma centered in Littleton at Columbine High School, which shattered Colorado and the nation in April of 1999, and was widely and repeatedly expected, “to change everything.”

Yet, in the final stretch of that 2000 election, candidate Al Gore was perceived as tapering back his campaign rhetoric on gun laws.  In that highly charged and closely watched final few weeks, Gore campaign advisors were quoted referring to “last minute strategic adjustments” most apparent in the second Gore/Bush nationally televised debate Oct. 11, 1999.   Democratic political consultants read these tea leaves and drew the conclusion that it was the gun issue that lost Gore the presidency.

Political momentum on the issue truly didn’t change until three significant galvanizing episodes, beginning with the January 2011 Tucson Arizona shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords.  Eight months later Colorado was rocked when a gunman killed 12 and wounded 70 more in an Aurora movie theater.  Then in December 2012, 20 first graders and 6 adults were mercilessly shot in their classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School in idyllic Newtown Connecticut.  

These national traumas re-energized gun violence prevention activism in synergy with a new grassroots social-media platform.  Besides the new communications technologies, the demographics of new gun violence prevention political activists is in sync with the social media platforms.  Average people, never previously involved in political activism found each other and connected, demonstrating a heightened sense of urgency – throughout the country.  This really has changed everything.

The best known exemplar of this synergy is Shannon Watts, founder of a Facebook page in December of 2012 which became the portal by which hundreds of thousands connected to form Moms Demand Action for Gunsense in America – now a branch of a national umbrella Everytown for Gun Safety.  

President Obama’s personal commitment for prioritizing gun violence prevention and VP Biden’s focus and dedication has given the activists champions in the White House with the highest media profile available. All of this activism has engendered significant interest from traditional media outlets – which in turn has helped attract more activists.  

Would Sander’s Congressional voting record have become one of Hillary Clinton’s campaign critical talking points, contrasting her from Sanders, were it not for traumatic gun violence in community after community? Coincidently, the Democratic presidential primary process provided a readily available contrast between Sanders and Clinton which Hillary Clinton boldly exploited.  In a happy coincidence, the demographics of many new gun violence prevention activists correlate with a critical Clinton campaign target audience. .  

Clearly the intensity of gun violence prevention activists has ramped up with their numbers and their determination to be heard by national and state politicians.  At the very least, the 2016 Democratic primary campaigns dramatically show that the political ground has shifted.  Cue the white smoke.

Ken Toltz is a Colorado businessman and longtime political activist. He is the founder and co-chair of Safe Campus Colorado, dedicated to getting concealed guns off Colorado’s college campuses.


Tags Al Gore Bernie Sanders Bill Clinton Hillary Clinton

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