The path forward for democrats starts with gun violence prevention

The path forward for democrats starts with gun violence prevention
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Since the 2016 election, pundits and journalists have criticized the Democratic Party for lacking a succinct, clear message. Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDACA recipient claims Trump is holding ‘immigrant youth hostage’ amid quest for wall Lady Gaga blasts Pence as ‘worst representation of what it means to be Christian’ We have a long history of disrespecting Native Americans and denying their humanity MORE is historically unpopular, and progressives are anxious to unseat those associated with him. But, as the popular narrative goes, the Democratic Party does not have a compelling agenda or signature issue to pitch to the American voters.

This is not true, of course.There is a signature issue to guide the Democrats forward in 2018, 2020, and beyond. It is an issue that Americans are passionate about — one that has clear, distinct policy proposals. And, as we have seen in recent weeks, it is a winning issue: gun violence prevention.

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The recent election in Virginia illustrates the issue’s growing popularity among voters. For months, Democrats up and down the ticket made gun violence prevention a cornerstone of their respective campaigns.

They ran openly and proudly as proponents of gun violence prevention and repudiated the National Rifle Association (NRA) at every opportunity. In exit polls, Virginia voters ranked gun violence prevention as the second most important issue when considering their choices.

A month before the election, the three most prominent statewide candidates in Virginia — now Governor-Elect Ralph Northam, Lieutenant Governor-Elect Justin Fairfax, and Attorney General Mark Herring — joined activists outside the NRA headquarters in Virginia to protest the organization’s dangerous policies.

This nearly unprecedented gesture illustrates that gun violence prevention is a winning issue. Though the enthusiasm for this issue has been growing for years, the recent election in Virginia was a turning point. The winning candidates sent a clear message to the NRA: We are not afraid of you.

Candidates have no reason to be. The NRA spent millions to defeat Northam, Fairfax, and Herring, and they came up empty. And despite the money the NRA spent on candidates in the House of Delegates, they lost a huge number of seats in an unexpected sweep by Democrats who favor stronger gun laws. The NRA suffered a huge blow in their home state. They should be worried.

The NRA has lost ground largely because the “passion gap” between pro-gun voters and gun violence prevention voters has all but evaporated. Voters — both Democrats and Republicans — are tired of the NRA’s extreme, dangerous agenda, they are voicing their outrage, and leaders are listening. Standing up for stronger gun laws and pursuing solutions to America’s gun violence epidemic is no longer risky; it is what the large majority of Americans support.

For years, far too many Republicans — and some Democrats — have sided with NRA instead of with their constituents. But that is changing. And politicians on both sides of the aisle need to recognize this shift and make gun violence prevention a central issue in their campaigns if they are going to win.

Recently, Sens. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDems demand answers following explosive new Cohen report Dem senators debate whether to retweet Cardi B video criticizing Trump over shutdown Cardi B expresses solidarity with federal workers not getting paid MORE (D-Conn.) and John CornynJohn CornynTrump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  Texas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall The Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s attorney general pick passes first test MORE (R-Texas), and six other legislators introduced the Fix NICS Act — a bipartisan gun violence prevention bill intended to improve the efficacy of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). This bipartisan effort demonstrates a marked shift in legislative politics and illustrates that legislators on both sides of the aisle are willing to listen to their constituents and support bipartisan efforts to strengthen gun laws. Even NRA-backed Republicans recognize that they must do something to prevent gun violence.

Democrats have a clear path forward. Those running for office must speak out against the gun lobby’s toxic agenda, fight NRA-backed legislation, and embrace evidence-based policies their constituents support. These include, among others:

  1. Improving our current background check system and supporting permit-to-purchase policies.
  2. Allowing family members to protect loved ones through Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs). This policy allows family members and/or law enforcement officials to petition a judge to temporarily remove firearms from individuals exhibiting dangerous behavior.
  3. Prohibiting those with a history of violent crime — including domestic violence — from owning or purchasing guns.
  4. Supporting a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
  5. Fighting the NRA’s dangerous policy proposals, including concealed carry reciprocity, guns on campus, and legalization of silencers.

As candidates look toward 2018 and 2020, they must make gun violence prevention a central issue within their campaigns. The American people are fed up with mass shooting after mass shooting. They are fed up with 38,000 gun deaths per year. They are fed up with the NRA’s callous extremism.

As we saw in Virginia, when candidates stand up for stronger gun laws, they win. Now is the time for politicians to stand together, raise their voices, and tell the NRA, “We are not afraid of you.”

Josh Horwitz is the executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.