Sen. Kamala Harris, the California Democrat and presidential aspirant, lamented on Monday the lack of congressional action on gun control, saying a solution would have been possible after the 2012 massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, if only lawmakers had been placed in “a locked room, no press, no one, nobody else” and required to examine “the autopsy photographs of those babies.”
“And then, you vote your conscience,” she said at a CNN town hall in Des Moines, Iowa. “This has become a political issue.”
Applause rang out as she added, “There is no reason why we cannot have reasonable gun safety laws in this country.”
The impassioned answer, to a question from a Presbyterian pastor, was a measure of the depths of Democratic outrage over the lack of a robust federal response to mass shootings in the years since 20 6- and 7-year-olds were gunned down at their elementary school in a quiet Connecticut suburb.
Eighty percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say gun laws should be more strict, according a to Pew survey conducted in September and October 2018. Overall, 57 percent of adults say the rules should be tighter.
Despite these figures, outbursts of gun violence are no longer guaranteed to spur calls for action. An apparently random, execution-style shooting last week at a Florida bank, which left five women dead, barely registered in Washington, seized by negotiations over the government shutdown and enthralled by the beginnings of a race for the White House.
The 2020 election is not shaping up to be about gun control. Instead, it shows signs of turning on President Donald Trump’s job approval, as well as on questions of identity and immigration. For the Democrats, who broadly agree on the need for new gun legislation, a more vexing question is how far left to tack on health care, taxes and the environment.
At the same time, Democratic candidates have shown increased willingness to put gun safety at the center of their campaigns.
Their gains in the midterm elections last November lay primarily in the suburbs, where the spending of groups seeking to tackle gun violence surpassed that of the National Rifle Association in federal contests. Exit polls showed that 59 percent of voters in House races favored stricter gun measures. And enthusiasm behind efforts to curb gun violence found an example in Lucy McBath, who lost her 17-year-old son in a shooting in 2012. On the same day that she was officially declared a congresswoman-elect, clinching the House seat in Georgia once held by Newt Gingrich, the Democrat found herself responding to the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Harris, a former prosecutor and attorney general of California, took care to note that her support for “smart gun safety laws” did not imply disagreement with the tenets of the Second Amendment.
“You can be in favor of the Second Amendment and also understand that there is no reason in a civil society that we have assault weapons around communities that can kill babies and police officers,” she said.
She called for a ban on assault weapons as well as universal background checks, saying the only obstacle was Congress, which lacked “the courage to act the right way.” As for the NRA, which awards her a 7 percent rating, she acknowledged that its influence was “real” but also suggested that its power has been overstated, making the organization a “paper tiger.”
“We’re not waiting for a tragedy,” she said. “We have seen the worst human tragedies we can imagine.”