If politicians ignore gun safety, voters will turn on them in 2018

If politicians ignore gun safety, voters will turn on them in 2018
© Getty Images

In the wake of this month’s horrific mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., the national conversation has once again turned to the issue of gun violence prevention. Yet, as we circle back to the sympathy portion in this endless cycle of violence, catharsis and inaction, there is also a clear shift in tone.

Americans are not just aggrieved. They are outraged, and they are ready for change. After the Parkland massacre, these sentiments are clearer than ever before. During a public rally last weekend, hundreds of students, teachers and residents chanted, “Vote them out.” The most recent Quinnipiac poll, meanwhile, found that three out of every four voters say Congress needs to do more to reduce gun violence.

Student-driven lobbying prompted President TrumpDonald John TrumpPapadopoulos on AG's new powers: 'Trump is now on the offense' Pelosi uses Trump to her advantage Mike Pence delivers West Point commencement address MORE to meet with school shooting survivors and relatives of victims on Wednesday. They pleaded for action on behalf of the loved ones they had lost. That night, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioFrustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump GOP senators work to get Trump on board with new disaster aid package MORE (R-Fla.) and Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchPelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Oil companies join blitz for carbon tax The Go-Go's rock the stage at annual 'We Write the Songs' DC concert MORE (D-Fla.) were grilled at a CNN town hall by anguished students and parents from the grieving Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School community who demanded to know how they would prevent another tragedy.

Citizens are demanding more than the insultingly generic condolences from their representatives. They want action and they want it now. After decades of empty talk, we are all too acquainted with several viable solutions policy proposals that we know can effectively help prevent senseless tragedies like this. Moreover, the data clearly shows that gun safety is a priority of the American people.

A Politico/Morning Consult poll found that eight in 10 Americans favor measures like mandated background checks, expanding screening for the mentally ill, subjecting private and gun show sales to background checks, and preventing sales to those convicted of violent misdemeanors, as well as those on federal no-fly or watch lists.

What is more, support for gun control is growing after tragedies like Parkland continue. The most recent Marist poll fielded after the Parkland shooting found that 71 percent of Americans agree that the laws governing the sale of firearms need to be stricter in general, up significantly from 64 percent last October. Voters are also demonstrating increasingly strong enthusiasm for pro-gun safety candidates. The same Marist poll showed that 85 percent of registered voters say a candidate’s position on gun legislation will have an effect on their vote.

This was apparent last November in Virginia, where the pro-gun safety candidate was victorious in 12 of 13 competitive races in which the Democratic candidate was endorsed by the pro-gun safety group of Gabby Giffords and the Republican candidate was backed by the NRA. In New Jersey, Phil Murphy, backed by Giffords, campaigned aggressively on a gun safety platform and won.

Americans have also indicated a growing distaste for the NRA and its policies, particularly its opposition even to reasonable measures like the banning of bump stocks, or devices that make semi-automatic rifles fire like machine guns. A Quinnipiac poll last fall found that 47 percent of voters believed that the NRA supports policies that are bad for the United States. Strikingly, gun owners agree. A Public Policy Polling survey last April found that 67 percent of firearm owners believe that the NRA has been “overtaken by lobbyists.”

But we cannot expect change without electing leaders who will work on behalf of the American people to find solutions to prevent gun violence. As Americans see the disconnect between their support for gun safety and the inaction of their elected officials, gun safety has unprecedented salience at the polls.

The evidence suggests America has reached a tipping point. According to Gallup poll last October, over six in 10 registered voters cited gun control as one of the most important factors they considered when selecting whom to vote for, and 24 percent said a candidate must share their views on gun control.

Consequently, gun safety is shaping up to be a major electoral issue in the 2018 midterm elections that could potentially win Democrats control of the House. According to the Cook Political Report, California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Virginia are home to 38 percent of all vulnerable Republican-held seats in play in 2018. In Minnesota, nearly one-fifth of districts are considered a toss-up.

While California, New York and New Jersey are already home to the nation’s most stringent gun safety laws, Illinois, Virginia and Minnesota have some of the loosest and are ripe for reform. The latter two, for example, do not require mandatory background checks prior to purchasing a firearm. Yet, there is strong support for increased gun safety in these states.

The results of Virginia’s latest races speak for themselves. In Minnesota, a Star Tribune poll in 2016 found 82 percent of voters support criminal background checks on all gun sales, including in private transactions and at gun shows. In Illinois, 60 percent of voters believe controlling gun ownership is more important than protecting gun rights, according to a 2013 poll conducted by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. Yet, Illinois lawmakers continue to reject gun safety measures again and again.

The American people are exasperated with the empty promises of self-interested politicians who refuse to listen to increasing calls for gun safety. As the 2018 midterm elections rapidly approach, voters are prepared to make their voices heard. If current leadership refuses to give American voters the gun safety laws they demand, they will turn out in November and elect leaders who can.

Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) served as a pollster for President Clinton. A longtime political consultant, he is also a Fox News contributor and the author of 11 books, including “Putin’s Master Plan: To Destroy Europe, Divide NATO, and Restore Russian Power and Global Influence.”