Republicans have good reason to be scared. If they aren’t already waking in the middle of the night from the terror of a wing-nut federal court deciding to destroy our health care system on their behalf, they now have to worry about an enraged bunch of activists and real human beings who don’t want to see more children die focusing all their power on 2020, knowing that nothing is going to happen with this Senate, with this White House.
Peter Ambler, the executive director of the advocacy group created by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords told The New York Times that “the president is full of empty promises and seems poised to take no action whatsoever. […] He offers excuses, not action or results, and clearly what’s going to happen here is that this is going to become a defining issue in the 2020 election.” For example, right after the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, he had his “listening” session with students and parents and said he would back strengthened background checks and red-flag laws. In fact, he said, “We will take action, unlike, for many years, where people sitting in my position did not take action.” He didn’t take action.
And now? “We’ve been down this road before,” said John Feinblatt, the executive director of Everytown for Gun Safety. “Remember, after Parkland he talked about background checks, and the next morning Wayne LaPierre marched into the White House and that discussion evaporated.” This time, Trump had one tweet mentioning background checks. Since that slip-up, he hasn’t deviated from the NRA script.
Of course, their eye isn’t just on the White House. Mitch McConnell has to be removed as Senate majority leader for anything of substance to happen. His own race and that of half a dozen or so Republicans in Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, and Texas are top priorities for gun safety groups. These groups can point to what happened in the House in first months after Democrats retook the majority—two substantive background check expansions, which are languishing now on McConnell’s desk.
That’s a big problem for him now. Because these groups are looking at what happened with health care in 2018 and seeing an electorate now that looks a lot like the electorate in 2018: a whole lot of human beings who were afraid of losing their health care and now are increasingly scared of losing their or their loved ones’ lives to gun violence.