(The Bloomberg View) -- Earlier this year, the National Rifle Association shut down access on its web site to the grades it has long awarded lawmakers. It seems the organization’s A grades, once a mark of electability, were becoming a liability for politicians. On Tuesday, advocates of sensible gun regulation demonstrated why.
In Washington state, voters easily passed a referendum that will raise to 21 the legal age to purchase semiautomatic rifles. Buyers will also have to pass an enhanced background check, take a training course and wait 10 days after paying to obtain the weapon. The initiative will also require gun owners to store their firearms securely or risk criminal penalties.
To those who believe a weapon of war should be purchased with the same ease as a bottle of aspirin and left loaded where children can readily access it, the new law is a nuisance. But Washingtonians decided that keeping powerful weapons out of the hands of children and the unfit is a priority higher than convenience. (Another mass shooting, this time near Los Angeles, provides the most recent evidence of how necessary such efforts are.)
Even more remarkable in the midterms was the number of congressional candidates running in swing districts nationwide who advocated gun-safety regulation. Among Democrats competing in the party’s targeted “red-to-blue” districts held by Republicans, a majority spoke up for gun regulation. In Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, gun-safety advocate Lucy McBath upset incumbent Republican Karen Handel. (McBath’s son, Jordan Davis, was shot to death in 2012 by a man who didn’t like the music playing from Davis’s parked car.)
In Florida, Georgia and Texas, Democrats who ran on gun safety lost statewide races — but only narrowly, charting a seismic shift in gun politics in the South. Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who had appeared in NRA advertising and earned the group’s A+ rating, lost his bid to become governor to a gun-safety candidate, Steve Sisolak. A host of other candidates with A grades lost as well, including gubernatorial hopefuls in Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota and New Mexico.
Earlier this year in Vermont, another traditional gun-rights state, Governor Phil Scott signed laws to expand background checks, limit magazine capacity and enable the removal of guns from people at “extreme risk” of violence.
The prospects for gun safety have improved partly because political intensity around the issue has changed sides. Gun policy has become a top issue for voters, midterm exit polls showed. And those who favor stricter gun laws are now more likely than those who oppose them to say the issue of gun regulation is a very important voting issue, according to an October poll for Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group backed by Bloomberg L.P. founder Michael Bloomberg.
Another reason for progress on gun policy is organization. The teenage survivors of the mass murder in Parkland, Florida, along with groups such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, effectively rallied voters by making phone calls, canvassing neighborhoods and raising money.
The changes required to produce sensible gun policy won’t happen overnight. But they’re now happening faster than many anticipated. Across the nation, including in red states, voters have just advanced the cause of safety. The tide is turning.
—Editors: Francis Wilkinson, Mary Duenwald.
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