Republicans pledge allegiance to hobbled NRA

The timing was irrelevant.

“Fuck them,” said Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was killed in the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018. “Fuck them all. Our children are dying in record numbers, and it is because of them.

Just over a year ago, after back-to-back shootings in Georgia and Boulder, Colorado temporarily reignited the gun control debate, supporters of tougher gun laws felt an unusual openness. The NRA was in turmoil, the Democrats had taken control of the White House and both houses of Congress, and public polls — including broad support for background checks — were on their side.

But if the first 16 months of Joe Biden’s presidency have demonstrated anything, it’s the limits of Democrats’ wafer-thin majority. Gun legislation has stalled, and Republicans heading into the midterms have every reason to woo the NRA.

“The gun problem is a perennial problem that won’t go away whether or not there’s a mass shooting,” said John Thomas, a Republican strategist working on House campaigns across the country. “And people who feel strongly on the right about the Second Amendment, while their hearts are clearly hurting, they are also deeply concerned about their safety, the safety of their families and the rhetoric of the left immediately jumps to their worst fear, who seizes firearms and gun control.

“It’s a problem”, he added, “that you have to reassure the base and talk to them [about] – that they will not have their weapons taken away.

After the shooting in Uvalde, gun control activists were preparing to stage protests again in Washington. On Capitol Hill, Democrats and some Republicans have again engaged in gun safety negotiations. And though the idea of ​​congressional action still seemed distant, the issue was already erupting in midterm campaigns.

In Texas, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat seeking to unseat Gov. Greg Abbott, confronted Abbott at a press conference where Abbott presented mental health — not gun proliferation — as the cause of the tragedy.

“Governor Abbott, I have to say something,” O’Rourke said, before being escorted out by security. “The time has come to stop the next shoot and you do nothing.”

It’s unclear if Abbott, who was scheduled to attend the NRA conference, will still do so. An adviser said on Wednesday that “everyone is focused on Uvalde today.”

But Trump is leaving. A spokeswoman for South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem first confirmed to POLITICO that she still plans to speak at the NRA event. And two Republicans who to have withdrawn from the event did not state that the school shooting was their reason.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) will not be attending the conference as he is still traveling to Ukraine. Justin Discigil, a spokesperson for the Texas Republican, told POLITICO that Crenshaw alerted NRA organizers before the shooting tragedy that his return flight from Ukraine would not bring him back to the United States until after the shooting. ‘event.

A spokesman for Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), another scheduled speaker at the NRA convention, said lawmakers had already informed the gun group that it would not be attending.

“Before today’s tragedy in Uvalde, we had already informed the NRA that he would not be able to speak due to [an] unexpected change in his schedule,” Cornyn spokesman Drew Brandewie said. “He must now be in DC for personal reasons on Friday.”

A spokesman for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his plans. But Cruz hardly backed down from the drama, accusing Democrats and the media of politicizing him.

“Inevitably, when there is a murderer like this, you see politicians trying to politicize him, you see Democrats and a lot of people in the media whose immediate solution is to try to restrict the constitutional rights of respectful citizens. laws,” Cruz said. journalists. “It doesn’t work, it doesn’t prevent crime.”

The NRA said in a statement that “as we gather in Houston, we will reflect on these events, pray for the victims, recognize our patriotic members, and pledge to redouble our commitment to securing our schools.”

For years, Republicans have viewed gun control politics as favorable to them for two reasons: gun safety has rarely emerged as an issue in the minds of voters and, when it is cases, they had single-issue Second Amendment voters on their side. . But that can change. In 2018, gun control supporters spent big on the midterm elections, winning several victories in congressional precincts. Public polls reflect broad support for background checks and other gun measures.

“The public is moving away from the NRA’s position and moving toward common sense gun safety legislation for 20 years,” said Frank Luntz, a seasoned Republican consultant and pollster. “This tragedy will push people further and faster.”

For Democrats, the shift in public attention to gun violence came as a rare opening in an otherwise bleak midterm election landscape. In the battleground states, they are already hammering the Republican gun record.

“There are senators the gun lobby has a stranglehold on, and we need to free them finger by finger,” said Shannon Watts, founder of advocacy group Moms Demand Action.

Calling the effort to enact tougher gun laws “a marathon, not a sprint,” she said she still held out hope for congressional action, but that, “If that doesn’t happen, we go louder and remind every voter where these lawmakers rise in November.

In addition to the frequency of mass shootings in America – the Texas school shooting followed the supermarket shooting in Buffalo, NY, by just over a week – the Supreme Court this summer could push the debate on firearms later in the mid-term campaign mix. This summer, the court is expected to rule on a closely watched case about gun restrictions in New York.

“Gun issues aren’t going away, and given what could happen to the Supreme Court in the coming weeks, it’s not going to get any better,” said Mathew Littman, Democratic strategist and executive director of the gun reform group 97 percent. “I think gun issues will be paramount for many voters.”

Still, Littman, a former Biden speechwriter, called the lack of movement on gun restrictions “incredibly frustrating.”

“The culture of death in this country,” he said. “A million people are dying from Covid… Children are being shot in schools. …

“What can we do differently,” he said, “to not accept all of this death. It’s something very unique, and it doesn’t have to be.

— Kelly Hooper contributed to this report

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