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  1. Opinion

Sensible gun reform requires taking the Senate | Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson
Published Aug. 5, 2019

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican Party may not have pulled the triggers, but they still bear some responsibility for the weekend's atrocities. The only way to keep military-style weapons of war out of the clutches of would-be mass killers is to take away McConnell's power — which means electing a Democratic majority in the Senate next year.

It is also necessary, of course, for a Democrat to defeat President Trump, whose racist rhetoric gives aid and comfort to white supremacists like the gunman who allegedly killed 22 innocent Walmart shoppers in El Paso. But even with Trump gone, McConnell will continue using his power over the Senate's agenda to keep sensible gun control measures from even being considered.

The Republican Party's absurd "analysis" of the weekend's double horror — first El Paso and then, just hours later, the killing of nine innocent men and women in Dayton, Ohio, by a young gunman — would be laughable if this were a moment for laughter. Trump blamed the carnage on the internet, violent video games and mental illness, in that order. But all of these phenomena are present in every other industrialized country, yet none suffers the kind of horrific gun violence we routinely experience in the United States. Japan, where a culture of violent video gaming is deeply rooted, has essentially no gun violence at all.

The difference? Our nation is awash in guns, and anyone can obtain one. In Sydney or Seoul or Stockholm, a delusional racist bent on a killing spree cannot easily, quickly and legally get his hands on an AK-47-style assault rifle. Here, no problem.

Yet the Republican Party is so under the thumb of the National Rifle Association that even the mildest, least intrusive gun control measures do not get a hearing. The Democratic-controlled House has passed legislation mandating universal background checks for gun purchases, an idea supported by more than four-fifths of Americans. McConnell won't let it come to the Senate floor for a vote.

Even when Trump's presidency is reduced to a nightmarish memory, nothing will change as long as McConnell and the Republicans control the Senate. Even as minority leader, McConnell would have considerable power — but much less than he has now. The Senate's arcane rules would allow him to delay and obstruct. But the Republican senators who are crying crocodile tears over El Paso and Dayton could at least be forced to go on the record as opposing common-sense gun laws that the American people, including those senators' constituents, overwhelmingly support.

Now for the hard part. It will not be easy for Democrats to win the Senate in 2020, given which seats are being contested. But for the party to have a fighting chance, it needs to run its very best Senate candidates — several of whom are instead running for president. They need to reconsider.

One of them is Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who is polling at less than 1 percent nationally in the overcrowded Democratic presidential field. Bullock has been elected and reelected in a deep-red state that Trump carried by 20 points in 2016. He would have an excellent chance of knocking off Republican incumbent Sen. Steve Daines, whose blind support of Trump rubs some Montanans the wrong way.

Another is former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, also polling at less than 1 percent. The incumbent I'd love to see him face, Sen. Cory Gardner, is widely considered the most vulnerable Republican senator because of Colorado's purple status and his slavishness to Trump and McConnell. Gardner described himself as "devastated" by the "tragic events" in El Paso and the "senseless violence" in Dayton. Too bad he's not in a position to do something about it.

The third presidential contender I'd love to see run for the Senate is Beto O'Rourke, who left the campaign trail Saturday to rush home to El Paso. In his emotional interviews, you could see how deeply the Walmart killing spree has affected him. O'Rourke came within 2.6 points of knocking off incumbent GOP Sen. Ted Cruz last year. His presence on the 2020 ballot against Republican Sen. John Cornyn would help put Texas, long a GOP stronghold, in play. And O'Rourke might just win.

I also wish the electrifying Stacey Abrams, currently not running for anything, would take on Sen. David Purdue in Georgia — putting another Republican state up for grabs.

If Democrats are serious about tackling gun violence, if they're serious when they say this is an emergency, then this is a moment for discipline and sacrifice. Sensible gun control requires taking the Senate. Think about it, please.

Eugene Robinson's email address is eugenerobinson@washpost.com.

© 2019 Washington Post Writers Group

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