In the aftermath of Wednesday’s shooting at a congressional baseball practice, the question arises, where does this leave the gun control debate? Members of Congress have called for unity to replace divisive, hateful rhetoric, which some argue motivated the attack on Republican congressmen — but few have pushed for legislative measures on gun control in response. And with at least one mass shooting occurring every month (under the most narrow definition), gun violence may continue to be a significant issue. CNN reached out to Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, for answers about whether this shooting will spur action on gun control reform and what Congress’ approach should be for curbing gun violence in the future. This interview, conducted via email, has been lightly edited for flow.
CNN: What are your thoughts on Wednesday’s shooting?
Gross: It was yet another tragedy we’ve seen play out way too many times in this country. Really, we see it every day. And for Capitol Hill, it hit home for the second time this decade. All Americans, including our elected leaders, deserve to lead their daily lives without fear of being shot.
CNN: How hopeful are you that Congress will pass gun control legislation?
Gross: We’re always hopeful that Congress will get with the program, do right by the American people and pass reform that keeps guns out of dangerous hands; it’s what keeps us coming back every day. But don’t expect them to act now. Our success will never be determined by sympathy or outrage in the wake of any single event, no matter how horrific. It will be determined by what we do every day to raise up the voice of an American public that has had enough and demands better.
Look, it took six years before Jim Brady got Congress to pass the first Brady bill. We’ve seen the outrage grow and we’ve seen it turn into action. We’re getting better and better at holding Congress accountable. Our supporters used to be able to put only hundreds of calls into Congress at a time. Now it’s hundreds of thousands. We used to admire how other issues inspired passionate activists to show up at district offices and town hall meetings to ask tough, educated questions. Now, that’s our activists.
CNN: What are the next steps for gun control reform?
Gross: Keep doing what we’ve been doing on behalf of the American people. Our top priority at the federal level is expanding Brady background checks to all gun sales. But we’re not waiting for Congress; we’re continuing our state by state march to expand background checks at the state level. In fact, almost half of all Americans now live in states with expanded Brady background checks. We’re also fighting back as the gun lobby tries to push through dangerous “reciprocity” legislation that would arm anyone and nullify concealed carry standards in every state — a race to the bottom that would force states with strong gun laws to allow anyone to carry guns anywhere.
CNN: What should be Congress’s approach to this issue?
Gross: What should be their approach? To listen to their constituents instead of the gun lobby. Congress would learn something very interesting, that 93% of their constituents support expanding Brady background checks. The only place in America we don’t find that consensus? Capitol Hill. Whatever side of this debate you land on, we’re all in it for the same reason. We all just want to be safe. Sensible policies do that by keeping guns only out of the hands of the people we ALL agree shouldn’t have them. And here’s the other thing – we KNOW THEY WORK. That’s not up for debate.
CNN: What alternatives, besides congressional legislation, do you see for gun control?
Gross: A lot. For more than 20 years our lawyers have been leading in the courts, fighting for and winning on behalf of gun violence victims — holding gun dealers and manufactures accountable. We’ve got a long and strong track record to back that up.
We’re doing important work with law enforcement and local/state governments to crack down on what we call ‘bad apple’ gun dealers — the small handful of dealers who skirt the law and best practices to supply 90% of the nation’s crime guns.
One area where we have the greatest potential to save lives is to beat back the gun industry’s myth that a gun in the home makes you safer when in fact the exact opposite is true. Kids and gun owners alike are all at risk when improperly secured and loaded guns are kept under the same roof. To get the message out we’ve teamed up with partners like the PTA, American Academy of Pediatrics, and even Hollywood writers to integrate these realities into their stories.
CNN: Why is this different than Newtown — or any of the hundreds of mass shootings in this country?
Gross: It’s not. Congress didn’t act in the wake of those tragedies or the 93 gun deaths every day. Again don’t expect them to act now. We are heartened by the words of unity that are coming from the leadership of Congress. This was a tragedy that clearly hit home; but we shouldn’t confuse any of that rhetoric, with any real hope that this tragedy, or any specific tragedy for that matter, will lead immediately to any meaningful policy change. That change will only come when the American people come together to hold our elected leaders accountable to put our safety ahead of the interests — and the greed of the corporate gun lobby.
CNN: How do you change the dynamic around the gun debate, which is that any concession by gun rights supporters is regarded as the start of a slippery slope to the government taking everyone’s guns?
Gross: It starts by busting the gun industry’s lies, like that one. They’re used to spreading fear to sell guns. It also means realizing we’re all on the same team. We all just want to keep ourselves and our families safe. That’s strong common ground to stand on. And we’ll never be safe if dangerous people can so easily get their hands on guns. That’s exactly why 93% of Americans, including more than 80% of gun owners, already do support expanded background checks. Part of it will require members of Congress to stop parroting the gun lobby’s talking points that keep those irrational fears alive. You can bet we’ll hold them accountable until they do.