March 21, 2018 at 3:23 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Gun reform would be a ‘miracle’ in this Congress

Gun control advocates have low expectations for immediate change but are hoping to elect a pro-safety Congress. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A new energy has emerged around gun control efforts amid preparations for the March For Our Lives in Washington, but observers have low expectations for that translating into meaningful action from Congress in the short term.

Mark Glaze, a D.C.-based consultant and co-founder of Guns Down, said the energy instead should be directed toward getting voters to the polls in the mid-term election to create a more favorable climate in Congress for gun control.

“In the short term, if Congress produces anything, that will be a miracle,” Glaze said. “But the bottom line is for real change to happen, we need to elect a pro-gun safety majority to Congress and the state legislatures. For me, all of this activity has to build to real change in November. That’s the bottom line.”

Gun control advocates have clear demands: They include an expansion of background checks to gun sales online, through private sellers and at gun shows; a ban on semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines; and extreme risk laws that allow individuals to petition courts to bar someone from obtaining firearms if they’re deemed a risk to themselves or others.

Media reports on Wednesday suggested Congress was prepared to enact a modest form of gun control as part of an omnibus spending bill.

According to The Hill newspaper, the package will include the bipartisan Fix NICS Act, which would encourage states to report more frequently to the current criminal database. The omnibus bill is also set to include funds for a House-passed school measure aimed at spotting signs of potential gun violence and enhancing school security.

Kris Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday the omnibus measure falls short of any real action on gun reform.

“Candidly, from Brady’s perspective, that does not go far enough,” Brown said. “We have gaps that are material in the background check system. Simply providing money to states and federal agencies to put names into the system that they’re already required to put in, while a step, is a tiny big step forward.”

Citing polls that show 97 percent of Americans favor enhanced background checks, Brown said those people “are looking for closing the gaps in that system.”

“That means closing the private sale loophole that allows people to buy guns without a background check over the internet, and it means closing the gun sale loophole, and it also means making sure that people can’t buy a gun if a background check hasn’t come back in 72 hours, as the shooter did in Charleston,” Brown added.

Asked by the Washington Blade what is possible in the near term as the march takes place, Brown said “meaningful legislation” exists in Congress and is growing in support, but the real focus for the momentum is after the election.

“And if we don’t get that changed, to be clear, from Brady’s perspective, if we do not get that change legislatively now, that will be our absolute priority to help educate and register voters nationwide, and they will vote on this issue, we are confident, if we give them the right information, come November,” Brown said. “So if we don’t get the change away, we will make this a top priority issue in the mid-terms…consistent with what the American people want.”

An estimated 500,000 to 750,000 attendees are expected to descend on Washington for the March For Our Lives. The emphasis of the march is safety from gun violence in schools in the aftermath of the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead. Just this week, another shooting took place at a high school in Maryland in which two people were wounded and the teenage shooter killed.

The tragedy at Parkland has captured media attention and galvanized the gun reform debate in ways the mass shooting that most directly impacted LGBT people, the 2016 tragedy at Pulse nightclub that killed 49 people and wounded 58 others, hasn’t been able to achieve. Subsequent shootings at a country music concert in Las Vegas with a death tally of 58 and at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that killed 26 also didn’t have the same impact.

Glaze attributes the newfound energy after the Parkland massacre to the “Chinese water torture” of recurring mass shootings that have led the dam to break.

“When you have catastrophic mass shooting after catastrophic mass shooting in a short timeframe, at some point, something snaps and people start to take control of their own safety,” Glaze said. “There have been more than a dozen school shootings just in 2018 and at some point, people just say enough.”

The fact that victims of the Parkland shooting were from a relatively affluent white neighborhood has prompted questions about racial influence on the gun debate.

On Monday, the National LGBTQ Task Force unveiled a report underscoring gun violence primarily affects victims in racial minority communities. The report calls for policies such as repeal of “Stand Your Ground” laws and challenging police violence through demilitarization, but also criticizes linking gun violence to mental health problems on the basis that it stigmatizes those with mental health issues.

Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán, a senior policy counsel at the Task Force and the lead author of the report, said in a statement the organization wants to focus on “lifting up Black and brown voices in the gun violence debate because they are routinely ignored by policy makers and are at far greater risk by the nation’s current gun policies than white America.”

“Gun violence is an LGBTQ issue, we are more likely than our non-LGBTQ peers to be the target of gun violence — all too often the victims of hate or at the abusive hands of law enforcement,” Rodríguez-Roldán said.

Glaze acknowledged “a racial component” to the gun debate, which is why he said proponents of gun control should be mindful of having diverse voices in their approach.

“That’s something that we in the movement have worked hard to address,” Glaze said. “The reality of gun violence in America is that most of the gun violence in this country happens everyday in shootings across the country that don’t make the headlines, and it is primarily focused on black and brown communities that need a louder voice.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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