Every voter has a different reason to go the polls this week. Some vote for healthcare, some for the environment, some for the economy. But there is another issue driving voters to the polls that hasn’t been given the spotlight it deserves: gun reform. And if this isn’t important to you as a voter, well, it should be.
The mass shooting in Pittsburgh, where 11 people were killed and six others were injured, is a reminder of the constant carnage we face as a nation due to gun violence and why gun reform is so important. In just three years, we’ve seen five of our nation’s top ten deadliest mass shootings. A mass shooting happens in our country eight out of every nine days. This uniquely American epidemic costs us 38,000 lives per year.
Even though each of us may not hear about every gun incident, we as Americans still collectively feel the epidemic’s impact. We see news coverage of mass shootings. Many of us have known someone impacted by gun violence. We feel afraid to send our kids to school, dreading getting the call that they aren’t coming back or they endured the trauma of a lockdown.
With every major shooting in this country, we see a distinct pattern in the rhetoric that follows: the public calls for stricter gun laws, Republicans offer “thoughts and prayers,” and then a few days later, we’re back to being complicit in the senseless violence. The NRA and Congressional Republicans rely on Americans to do what we do best: get distracted, move on, and forget. Soon enough, “gone but not forgotten” becomes just “gone.”
However, in recent years there has been a growing shift in political activism and public support for gun reform. Support for changes to our gun laws is at an all-time high and recent polling shows that this is one of the most important topics on Americans’ minds going into the midterm elections. Many voters are fired up and ready to vote based on a candidate’s positions on gun reform, as shown by a recent Kaiser Foundation poll identifying gun reform as a driving issue for 60 percent of all likely voters, including conservatives and gun owners.
In a poll released this summer by the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, gun reform is identified as the number one issue to LGBTQ voters going into the election. Ranked above healthcare, the economy, and even LGBTQ-specific issues, more LGBTQ voters will decide their vote on a candidate’s gun reform platform than on any other issue. Overall, 75 percent said that a candidate’s position on gun reform is likely to impact their vote.
This groundbreaking poll was the first of its kind to specifically look at the positions of the LGBTQ community surrounding gun issues. LGBTQ Americans are extremely active politically, voting as often or even more often than straight Americans. Therefore, their clear stance on this issue should not be undervalued: this community has the population and the participation to significantly impact elections over this issue.
And the LGBTQ community is not alone. A study by the YWCA found gun reform to be the number one issue among women, especially women of color and younger women. As more women have become politically active following the 2016 election and its fallout, candidates should definitely take note of this voting population and how highly women prioritize gun reform.
Why is gun violence prevention so important to so many voters? For many Americans, it’s simple: gun violence is as scary as it is ubiquitous, and we’re tired of being constantly scared. We also know that this fear is not a reality that we have to live with – common sense gun reform measures work. We have the data, we know the facts: states with stricter gun laws see a reduction in gun deaths by 40 percent.
This week, Americans have an opportunity to cast their ballots and elect a Congress that will finally stand up to the gun lobby and move forward with gun reform. The time to act is now to save lives. The only way we will change our nation’s gun laws is if we change the people we elect to Congress. Remember how you felt after watching the news of the latest mass shooting and saying something needs to change. Well now is your chance to create change. Your vote could mean everything in curbing the gun violence epidemic.
Jason Lindsay is founder and executive director of Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, a political action committee that supports state and federal candidates who will act on sensible gun policy reforms and champion LGBTQ equality. Lindsay served for 14 years in the U.S. Army Reserve and was deployed to Iraq in 2003.