Commentary: A new movement for sensible gun laws?
Last week, as the cherry blossoms made their annual debut in Washington, D.C., the Capitol marked another anniversary: A year ago, Congress failed the nation by refusing to fix our broken gun background check system.
In the year since, tens of thousands more Americans -- our mothers, our fathers, our friends -- have been killed with guns. Many of them would still be with us if a minority of senators hadn't blocked progress.
By the way, this is not a tough political issue. Fully 90 percent of Americans, including 82 percent of gun owners and 74 percent of NRA members, think every gun buyer should pass a criminal background check.
So why has progress been so difficult, while 33 more of us are murdered with guns each and every day?
For decades, the National Rifle Association has been the only game in town. Its grassroots strength is real; its members care, and they vote; and the group rewards and punishes candidates with financial support. Without an effective counterbalance, members of Congress who want to do the right thing know they face the wrath -- and the money -- of the NRA, perhaps the toughest special interest around. So they avoid the issue. And, as a result, the United States has a gun murder rate up to 20 times higher than the average rate of other wealthy nations.
But all that is starting to change. After the Newtown, Conn., shooting, a group of moms, mayors, gun violence survivors and citizens who just want their kids to come home from school each night are building a new movement for gun safety. And it's already showing that we can win -- and do no damage to the Second Amendment.
Enter a new organization called Everytown for Gun Safety, which recently announced plans to build the kind of counterweight we need to offset the power of the NRA. This coalition of mayors and more than 1.5 million grassroots supporters is already winning major victories where it counts: in states nationwide.
In Washington and Wisconsin, this group helped lead the fight to pass laws that will remove guns from the hands of domestic abusers. In Tennessee, members beat back a law that would have allowed open carrying of loaded guns in public parks -- where our kids play. And just this week, they persuaded Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona -- no bleeding-heart liberal -- to veto two bills that would have allowed guns in government buildings, and would have severely penalized local officials who passed common-sense gun laws.
They're also doing the real work of an effective movement: building the grassroots. The group's Gun Sense Voter project aims to mobilize fully a million Americans to pledge to support candidates who will fight for common-sense gun laws.
And Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City and founder of the group, has personally pledged $50 million through the midterms to offset the NRA's election spending. That means candidates will finally have what they need: someone who will have their backs when they take risks to keep their people safe.
It's also important to keep talking to gun owners, whose concerns are genuine, and who deserve respect. A good place to start that conversation is Colorado.
Last year, that state -- which has a strong tradition of gun ownership, and a libertarian streak a mile wide -- passed a law requiring background checks for all handgun sales.
In the short time that law has been in place, more than 160 prohibited gun buyers have been blocked. They were felons, domestic abusers, the seriously mentally ill, and others who have no business with a firearm. And as Coloradans know all too well, it only takes one to devastate a family, a community, a nation.
At the same time, Coloradans bought more guns in 2013 than in any previous year. The lesson here? Background checks work. Colorado is a lot safer today. And the Second Amendment is firmly in place.
Of course, there will be setbacks. Just this week, Georgia's governor signed into law what one group calls the "guns everywhere" bill. "Licensed carriers" can now bring their guns into bars without restrictions and "in some churches, schools and government buildings under certain circumstances."
The bill raises serious questions. ABC News reports that Beth English, president of the Georgia Municipal Association, said she supports gun rights and has a carry permit, but worries the added security costs will force the city to increase taxes.
And the Rev. Raphael G. Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church said, "This is the gun lobby foisting their agenda on churches, and I think it's a tragic violation of church and state."
Such gun-lobby bullying is just one of the challenges ahead. The NRA has been around since 1871, and you don't turn that kind of head start around overnight. But a new movement is rising up -- one that respects the rights of law-abiding gun owners, but also wants our kids to grow up in safe communities, and understands that there is no conflict in those goals.
(Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News, and a contributing columnist to Ms. Magazine and O, the Oprah Magazine.)