People For the American Way

The GOP’s blind gun loyalty is about to hit a Gen Z wall

Op-Ed

First published in The Hill.

For many of us, this is the time of year when we start pulling out swimsuits and planning vacations.

For the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, however, the arrival of spring this year means time to start planning its response to mass shootings.

Why now? Because tragically, warm weather brings an uptick in gun violence.

So in mid-April, the Office of Gun Violence Prevention staff held a kickoff meeting for a new multi-agency team that is designed to provide a “FEMA-like” coordinated response to mass shootings. The idea is to have multiple teams on the ground within 24 hours of a mass shooting: Justice Department staff to set up family assistance centers, Education Department staff to help schools reopen, and so on.

This is very sobering news. On the one hand, it’s good that such a strong response is in the works. On the other hand, of course, it’s heartbreaking that it’s come to this — because a civilized society should be able to prevent mass slaughter, not just respond to it.

Shooting after shooting, death after death, and the right continues to signal that it will not stand for limits on gun sales or gun use. Even in the wake of horrific mass shootings, Republicans at the state level have been expanding access to guns.

And to be a Republican with national ambitions is to be required to embrace the gun worship of the far right. Why else would South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) tell the world she once shot her puppy, if not to prove she was a vice-presidential pick who would be all-in on guns, all the time? (That seems to have backfired, by the way.)

What’s especially baffling about this is that polls show that most Americans want stricter gun laws. To give one frustrating example, most voters say they want a ban on assault weapons; but late last year, Republicans in the Senate once again blocked one.

Fortunately, there are some bright spots at the federal level.

The Biden administration has focused on increasing background checks for gun buyers and closing the gun show loophole that allowed people to avoid background checks by purchasing weapons online or at places like shows and flea markets. The gun show loophole has been a disastrous enabler of deadly violence for years, including the Columbine killings 25 years ago, so it’s a huge relief to see it close this year.

But there’s so much more to do.

And this is an area in which I’m confident young people will lead.

I think of 27-year-old Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.), whose signature issue is preventing gun violence. Frost was a driving force behind the creation of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

Right now he’s sponsoring a bill to stop the sale of “zombie guns.” Zombie guns get on the market when gun disposal contractors (usually working for local governments with gun-buyback programs) only destroy one part of a gun and then sell the remainder as a kit.

He’s also sponsoring legislation to allow credit card companies to code sales of guns and ammunition so suspicious patterns can be tracked and flagged — like the $26,000 worth of purchases the Pulse nightclub shooter made right before his horrific crime.

If that law passes, it would override laws in several states that actually prevent credit card companies from doing this — including one just signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in Frost’s home state of Florida.

The passion of millennials and Gen-Zers like Frost around this issue is encouraging. Perhaps even more encouraging are the signs that it’s not limited to just one political party.

After all, young progressives aren’t the only ones who grew up in an era of school shootings and other mass violence: Today’s young Republicans did, too.

It’s because of this that the hard-core pro-gun positions of older right-wing Republicans now appear to be alienating some younger members of the party. That gives us hope that maybe the most hostile opposition to common-sense gun regulation is on its way out.

It’s painful to be reminded of just how bad the month of May has been for mass shootings in America: not just the Columbine tragedy, but the Tops grocery store shooting and the Uvalde school shooting have their anniversaries this month as well. So I’m glad the White House is doing the somber work of preparing for the terrible possibility of violence ahead.

I just wish it weren’t necessary.

Tags:

gun safety, gun violence