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After Uvalde, Democrats need to stop posturing — and start acting

President Joe Biden speaks to the nation about the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, from the White House, in Washington, Tuesday, May 24, 2022, as first lady Jill Biden listens. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
President Joe Biden speaks to the nation about the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, from the White House, in Washington, Tuesday, May 24, 2022, as first lady Jill Biden listens. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Gunfire is dramatic, its impact immediate, its consequences permanent. Nineteen children and two teachers did not show up for school today in Uvalde, Texas. They will never show up anywhere, ever again.

Outraged denunciations of Republicans opposed to gun control won’t bring them back or prevent the next slaughter in an Asian church, a Black supermarket or a Jewish synagogue. The blood of ordinary Americans leading ordinary lives has no power to move those who would elevate the gun as a perverse symbol of individual liberty above the collective will of their fellow citizens for reasonable regulation of firearms that now outnumber people in the United States.

“When in God's name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby? When in God's name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?" President Joe Biden asks in genuine frustration, as though the challenge we are facing were more emotional than strategic.

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, whose state was the scene of the worst school massacre in U.S. history a decade ago when 26 people — 20 of them first-graders — died in a hail of bullets at Sandy Hook Elementary School, wants to know, “What are we doing?” as though the better question were not what aren’t we doing, given the failure of Democrats to move the needle on this or so many other issues overwhelmingly supported by the American people.

Performance is what too often now passes for leadership in the Democratic Party.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York knows the legislation he is championing this week to toughen criminal background checks and expand the waiting period for gun purchases will fail in the Senate. Forcing a vote on those bills — measures passed by the Democratic majority in the House in 2019 and supported by more than 80 percent of Americans — is purely performative.

Performance is what too often now passes for leadership in the Democratic Party. It was on display earlier this month when the Senate, in a 51-49 vote, blocked a bill that would have enshrined in federal law a woman’s right to abortion. “Tens of millions of women are watching what will happen to the rights they’ve relied on for decades, and all of us will have to answer for this vote for the rest of our time in public office,” Schumer said in advance of a vote that he, and all those women, knew to be doomed.

Investigators search for evidences outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Wednesday, May 25, 2022. Desperation turned to heart-wrenching sorrow for families of grade schoolers killed after an 18-year-old gunman barricaded himself in their Texas classroom and began shooting, killing several fourth-graders and their teachers. (Jae C. Hong/AP)
Investigators search for evidences outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Wednesday, May 25, 2022. Desperation turned to heart-wrenching sorrow for families of grade schoolers killed after an 18-year-old gunman barricaded himself in their Texas classroom and began shooting, killing several fourth-graders and their teachers. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

I cannot speak for “tens of millions of American women” but, as one supporter of reproductive choice, I would prefer a party that protects my rights to a party that postures about them.

It could do that by re-focusing some of its energy from a gridlocked Congress to state legislatures, where for decades GOP lawmakers have been imposing Draconian restrictions on abortion access and lifting sensible constraints on gun ownership. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who yesterday condemned the “senseless” murders at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, last September signed into law a bill that permits Texans to carry a handgun without a license or any safety training. He did so two years after mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa killed 30 people.

Democrats need to win more than a few extra seats in the U.S. Senate this fall if the views of a majority of the American people are to be given the weight they deserve.

Texas is Texas, of course, but the Republican party has long had a national strategy of using the states as a laboratory to advance its anachronistic agenda on everything from the U.S. history taught in public schools to the rights of transgender athletes. If, as expected, the U.S. Supreme Court this summer uses a challenge to a Mississippi law banning abortion after the 15th week of pregnancy to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Republican party will have demonstrated the value of patiently cultivating local ground to reap a national harvest. It has taken 50 years.

With so many obstructionist Republicans in the Senate, Democrats are limited in what they can accomplish in Washington through executive action. The Justice Department adopted a rule last month, for instance, designating as gun manufacturers those who produce gun kits. These increasingly popular ghost guns, assembled at home, now must be imprinted with serial numbers and licensed. One small victory for common-sense gun control.

Democrats need to win more than a few extra seats in the U.S. Senate this fall if the views of a majority of the American people are to be given the weight they deserve. They need greater influence at the local level, where social grievances are nurtured, and the culture wars are first waged. Republicans now control 30 state legislatures and 28 governorships. That’s a lot of power out there, well beyond the Beltway.

Follow Cognoscenti on Facebook and Twitter.

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Eileen McNamara Cognoscenti contributor
Eileen McNamara teaches journalism at Brandeis University. The author of a biography of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, she won a Pulitzer Prize as a columnist for The Boston Globe.

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