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NRA Grip On GOP Cracks As Students Put Republicans In a Bind On Gun Control Debate


NRA Grip On GOP Cracks As Students Put Republicans In a Bind On Gun Control Debate

Survivors from the horrific high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead are changing the debate over mass shootings and guns.

The all-too-common sequence of outrage spurring empty pledges from politicians before a return to the status quo has become routine, but things appear to be changing as students are keeping the pressure on politicians and businesses to cut ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA), the main supporter of assault weapons.

While legislation backed by the students failed in the legislature this week, there are signs that they are truly affecting the political debate.

After being humiliated on national television over his weak response to the school shooting, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said that some of his positions on guns are evolving, while Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.), who faces a competitive reelection race, announced he would support a ban on assault rifles.

Even the famously pro-gun Gov. Rick Scott (R), a darling of the NRA, has been moved by the students’ appeals. On Friday, he rolled out a package of proposals to bolster gun laws, something the NRA does not favor, according to The Hill.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, criticized President Trump’s proposal to raise the minimum age for gun purchases, saying it wouldn’t “save lives.”

“I think what we want to focus on is things that will actually save lives,” Cornyn said Friday, according to CNN. “That’s why I think the focus should be on the Fix [National Instant Criminal Background Check System] bill, which is the only bipartisan piece of legislation that can be signed into law.”

In a Thursday tweet, Trump vowed to push for comprehensive background checks for gun sales, while calling for the minimum purchase age to be raised to 21.

To gun control advocates, the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who arrived in Tallahassee to lobby state lawmakers are evidence that a new generation of political activists may be more driven by gun issues than previous generations.

“They’ve got this voice, this singular, united voice, and it’s clearly accelerated what little progress we’ve begun to make. We’ve been primarily on the defensive,” said Jamie Ito, a Tallahassee lawyer who is a member of the local chapter of Moms Demand Action, a gun control advocacy group. “These students bring this passion and truth and this demand that I don’t think lawmakers can ignore.”

“The historical difference is the NRA members are so committed, and they go to the polls, and they vote,” said Mac Stipanovich, a longtime Republican lobbyist in Tallahassee. “If the other side can get the people who don’t usually go to the polls to go, then they win.”

“The people that want reform, it’s never been a driving issue,” added Steve Schale, a Democratic operative in Tallahassee.

“The Democrats have a unique chance, probably the best chance in 20 years to pick up a real number of seats in the state House and Senate,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist in Tallahassee.

If anything is to truly change the conversation on guns, activists said it would be a younger generation — embodied by those Parkland students who showed up in Tallahassee and on cable news networks this week — moved to action by the crisis.

“As awful and terrible as Newtown was, those were first-graders that couldn’t advocate for themselves. It’s different having lawmakers listening to parents than listening to the actual kids who were there, teenagers who went through this and who are so angry and so motivated,” Wilson said.

As those students reach voting age, and as their generation engages more significantly in politics, the political calculus may change under their influence.

It’s kids basically getting their parents where they need to be. When politicians view voting against suburban moms who have kids in high school as a bigger threat than voting against the NRA, that’s when the conversation has changed.

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