I am from gun safety future, and Republicans, you’re in trouble.
For more than 40 years, you have successfully avoided talking about this issue as fatalities and injuries climbed and as firearms became deadlier. With the help of the National Rifle Association, you declared any form of regulation a dire threat to the U.S. Constitution and a menace to the American culture and way of life.
The argument is nonsense, but the strategy was brilliant. It fed on cultural divisions, pitted urban Americans against rural. It replaced conversations about a complex public health problem with angry slogans.
Meaningful debate evaporated, even after 20 first-graders were gunned down at Sandy Hook. Even after 49 people were murdered at the Pulse nightclub. Even after suicide deaths and daily street violence stacked up. In 2018, when my friends and neighbors were murdered as they worshipped in their synagogues in the Tree of Life building, my community’s despair was compounded by the fact that change seemed so far out of reach.
But, almost four years later, after another classroom full of innocent children has been attacked with another assault-style rifle, something has changed.
It’s what the gun manufacturers have always feared the most: An honest conversation about a rational balance between the constitutional right to keep and bear arms and the safety of our residents.
It’s happening in Washington, where a bipartisan group of senators agreed last week on a modest but substantive framework for legislation that aims to curb gun violence by doing what has long been considered impossible: regulating guns. And it’s happening in communities across Pennsylvania, where residents have rapidly gone from perplexed to annoyed to outraged that their elected officials continue to do nothing to address the ever-rising body count caused by gun violence.
Where it’s not happening is within the Republican Party in the Pennsylvania House and Senate. Out of 141 Republican legislators, only one has sponsored or co-sponsored a single piece of legislation that would regulate the ownership or use of firearms in any way. More than 1,700 Pennsylvanians died in 2020 from gun violence — can you imagine the legislative response if that many people were killed in amusement parks or swimming pools?
After the unthinkable attack on children in Uvalde, Texas, Pennsylvania House and Senate Democrats used the parliamentary procedures available to the minority party to force consideration of firearm regulation bills, but Republican leaders did what they’ve done as long as I’ve been around: swatted down the bills with as little discussion as the rules would allow.
They are using the same strategy they always have, not realizing that the world has changed. The costs of gun violence seem to have finally crossed an invisible threshold for many Americans, but that’s not the only reason we find ourselves in this unfamiliar place of hope. The NRA, which used weakened campaign finance laws and a powerful public relations machine to manipulate politics at the state and federal levels has managed to run itself out of money.
Now distracted by high-level infighting and mired in legal battles, the organization is no longer in a position to control the narrative. While the fog of the NRA’s influence won’t disappear overnight, the federal debate and the expectations on the ground already show that we are in new territory.
In my community, many suffered anew that it was not our tragedy that woke up the nation and started this conversation in earnest. But I would argue that it was our tragedy. It was everyone’s tragedies. It was the fact that the vast majority of Americans have been affected by gun violence. It was heartbroken mothers and fathers and children and friends and neighbors from coast to coast who have suffered the unimaginable pain of losing someone to preventable gun violence.
In other words, the callous refusal to address this deadly problem has created an enormous constituency. It is a club that nobody wants to be in, but it is diverse and committed and growing every day.
I am 100% certain that we will prevail.
Rep. Dan Frankel, a Democrat, represents the 23rd District in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. This piece was first published by the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.