To Win on Guns, Keep Doing Politics

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I trust you’ll be able to find plenty of doom and gloom about the filibustered gun safety bill on the Internet today if that’s what you’re looking for, so let me post a different take that I liked from Jonathan Bernstein.

The point he makes is that big controversial legislation takes time to pass, usually several cycles, so it’s not surprising that this bill went down. Democrats’ enthusiasm for new gun safety legislation is a very recent turn in American politics. The push for a response to Sandy Hook basically started off cold, coming on the heels of years of purposeful Democratic retreat on this issue.

It’s probably going to require a sustained years-long effort by activists to get a decent gun safety reform bill. That may sound like bad news to some, and on one level it is, but I actually think you should feel encouraged that it got as close as it did, because that means this is eminently winnable. We just have to keep doing the boring work of politics, particularly extracting promises from candidates (PA-13, let’s do this!) for the 2014 cycle:

Even more likely, if Senate candidates in open-seat primaries can be pushed to support consensus legislation, then they are very likely to support it once elected. And if they know they need that position in order to be nominated, they’ll take it. That doesn’t just mean national efforts; it means that local efforts, in each state and each House district, really can matter.

As Greg documented, this is the historical record on gun legislation. But it’s also the historical record on all legislation. It’s rare to have something pass the first time it’s tried (and while background checks are not brand new, this push for expansion mostly is). But whether it’s health care, campaign finance, or even the Patriot Act, most bills succeed after a long and painful process — even though final passage may come surprisingly quickly (as was the case with the Patriot Act).

It may sound trite to say it, but it really does come down to whether those who really care about it can sustain their effort over time, build support, and be ready with consensus legislation when the time comes. That wasn’t the case this time, as we found out this week. But as brutal as today was those who care about gun violence, the overall process can still be a step forward — if people keep working at it.

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