Last night, Joe Biden gave the speech the country needed to hear about gun control. In the wake of a spate of mass shootings that included the slaughter of 19 school children in Uvalde, Texas, he asked a simple question. “How much more carnage are we willing to accept?” It’s a question most of the nation wants answered.
Biden told us what he wants to see happen. He wants an outright ban on assault weapons like the one we had for a decade during 1990s and first part of this century. Short of that, he wants to raise the age to buy assault weapons to 21 years old. He wants restrictions on high-capacity magazines. He wants background checks. He wants red flag laws that can keep guns out of the hands of dangerous or mentally unstable people. He wants common sense reforms that most Americans want, too.
I’m dubious that much will happen. Republicans in the Senate may allow expanded background checks, but that’s probably about it. However, polling shows that the reforms Biden mentioned have broad political support, even among a significant portion of the GOP. Democrats should make access to guns the central issue of their campaign. Given the political environment, they have little to lose.
Right now, inflation and gas prices are voters’ top concerns and neither are problems that Biden or anybody else can do much to influence, at least not in the five months between now and election day. Democrats desperately need to change the focus of the political conversation and right now they have an opportunity. Biden’s speech tonight gave them a jumping off point.
Democrats should contrast their vision for America with that of Republicans. For decades, Republicans have told us that mass shootings are the price of freedom. Active shooter drills in schools should be a way of life. They want us to apply the theory of mutually assured destruction to our neighborhoods–that living in fear of our neighbors is the surest path to safety. Their dystopian view has become reality and it’s failed our country.
As Biden said last night, “Enough!” Instead of a package of reforms, Democrats should offer individual measures to prevent gun violence and force Republicans to take vote after vote, holding debates that last through the summer. They should begin with an assault weapons ban, move to high capacity magazines, then red flag laws, and end with background checks. They should define Republicans as a party willing to sacrifice our children and families to appease an extremist base and the gun lobby.
In North Carolina, Cheri Beasley’s campaign should set the stage. She has a perfect foil as an opponent. Ted Budd is a gun dealer who opposes any measures to curb gun violence. He believes we should arm more people. He’s both a gun nut and gun profiteer. He’s on the wrong side of the debate in the wake of Uvalde, Buffalo, and Tulsa and Beasley should not let him off the hook.
Conventional wisdom among Democrats in North Carolina has been to stay away from talking about guns, but the political sands are shifting. Even Civitas has a poll from 2019 showing almost 60% of North Carolina voters believe gun laws are not strict enough. I suspect that number is higher in the wake of the recent events.
In 2014, Kay Hagan almost beat the red tide that year by making the election about Thom Tillis’ record on education. Her campaign avoided the broader national conversation and kept their message focused on the former House Speaker and his opposition to raising teacher pay or adequately funding schools. Beasley should do the same with Budd and guns. He’s bragged about his opposition to any effort to restrict access to guns and she should make him own it.
To win in this environment, Beasley needs to be opportunistic and take risks. This one is a good bet and she might not get another opportunity. If she wins, she’ll be a hero. If she’s loses, she’ll go down on the side of the angels.