On Monday morning, another mass shooting struck an unsuspecting American city.
At least 12 people were killed and several more wounded in Washington D.C.’s Navy Yard, the oldest military installation in the country, where 16,000 civilian and military employees go to work each day.
Each time large-scale gun violence strikes our country—at a workplace, a movie theater, a political rally, or most devastating of all, at a school—a public debate about gun laws ensues. Public opinion polls appear to show that a majority of Americans support sensible measures to prevent gun violence, particularly shootings by gunmen armed with assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that have no purpose other than to wreak mass violence. Then, Congress promises action. But every time, our elected officials fail to deliver.
This grim pattern unfolded 15 years ago after Columbine. It happened after Tucson and Aurora. It happened this year in the wake of the tragic shooting deaths of 26 people—20 of them elementary school students—at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. And it may happen again now, after Monday’s shooting, unless we do something.
Americans must withhold donations and votes from the Congressmen and women who sustain this grim pattern in politics, starting with the senators who voted against a bill drafted in the wake of the Newtown shooting.
Sponsored by Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Patt Toomey of Pennsylvania—both of whom are rated “A” by the National Rifle Association—the bill would have strengthened public safety by tightening loopholes in current gun laws that allow felons and the dangerously mentally ill to obtain guns without passing a background check. Polls consistently show that 90 percent of Americans—including 82 percent of gun owners and 74 percent of NRA members—support such background checks.
Confronted with a bipartisan bill sponsored by NRA-supported senators and instituting rules the vast majority of Americans support, on April 17, Democratic Senators Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Mark Pryor of Arkansas nonetheless voted no. Baucus is retiring, but even without the fear of losing a reelection, he took the wrong side on this significant legislation. The bill fell short of the 60 votes it needed to pass. Once again, Congress failed to deliver on its repeated promises to prevent gun violence.
I urge my fellow voters to withhold donations and deny votes to politicians who refuse to take a stand against gun violence, starting with the three senators of the four above who are planning to run for reelection: Begich, Heitkamp, and Pryor.
As a lifelong Democrat, I don’t take this stand lightly. It wasn’t easy for me to send out letters, as I did this week, to 1,200 California donors who have contributed to Begich, Heitkamp, and Pryor in the past, urging them to cease their support. But I’ve also spent more than three decades supporting efforts to stop gun violence. These three Senators have ignored the will of their constituents and failed to help protect children and innocent bystanders from gun violence, departing from the fairly admirable work of their party over the past several decades to promote gun safety.
Forty-five years ago, I voted for Robert F. Kennedy—who spoke out against gun violence—in the California presidential primary just before he was shot and killed. His death came only two months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and five years after the shooting death of his brother, President John F. Kennedy. Back then, Congress, led by President Lyndon Johnson, managed to pass a fairly robust law to help stop gun violence by restricting mail orders of guns—though even the famously persuasive Johnson wasn’t able to secure every measure he wanted.
Not long after that, the National Rifle Association managed to convince politicians that it could make or break their election bids. The NRA’s power has only strengthened, despite a decline in gun ownership and despite many gun owners joining the effort to close loopholes and prevent violence.
I wish I could tell you that we can’t wait for the next mass shooting—but we didn’t wait. A shooting occurred just yesterday. Let’s not allow the pattern to play out again. Americans who don’t want to see any more shootings—who don’t believe students should be afraid to go to school—must prove we can be just as powerful as the NRA. Please join me in withholding your support from politicians who claim to want to stop violence but who act otherwise, starting with Senators Begich, Heitkamp, and Pryor.
Eli Broad founded SunAmerica Inc. and KB Home and runs the Broad Foundations, designed to advance entrepreneurship for the public good in education, science and the arts.