On Sunday, January 13, just as National Rifle Association president David Keene was on CNN arguing that bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines can't pass in Congress and "don't work" in reducing gun-related violence, hundreds of protesters were amassing in Seattle's Westlake Park and demanding that lawmakers prove those like Keene wrong.
"I'd like to see all gun buyers submit to psych evaluations before purchase," Queen Anne resident Mary Steubert said during the march to Seattle Center. Renton resident Dan Targee, who was marching with his two young kids, explained, "New York is talking about creating mandatory police registries of assault weapons. I want that here."
Organized by local gun-control lobby group Washington Ceasefire, the march commemorated the one-month anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. And the nuanced level of discourse happening at the event proved that gun control is no longer a third-rail, career-killing issue in the fleet-footed world of politics. Recent horrific instances of gun violence, especially Sandy Hook, have kneecapped the NRA's lobbying influence and pushed the issue of gun control to the forefront of local and national conversation. The portraits of 20 dead children and six dead teachers have ensured that it stays there.
New York State is gearing up to pass the most restrictive gun-control package in the nation. President Obama is expected to announce his own plan to reduce nationwide gun violence any day now. And on Sunday, state senator Ed Murray (D-Seattle) announced he'll introduce legislation in Olympia to ban assault weapons. "No more children need to die," Murray told the Seattle Center crowd.
"That's what I want to hear," said a man next to me named Bill. Bill described himself as a conservative and a lifelong NRA member who lives "not in Seattle." Nevertheless, he traveled to Washington's chewy liberal center with his handmade sign that read "Put the Guns Down" instead of watching football with his family. After 40 years as a self-described "gun nut," Bill's New Year's resolution is to sell off his guns and retire his NRA membership. He is ready to support an assault weapons ban.
"I had to witness too many lives ruined to get to this point," he said, ticking off a string of gun-related deaths among his friends and family. "As I see it, the most surefire way to stop people from killing other people with guns is to take guns out of the equation."
Meanwhile, the NRA flounders in its fight to retain its powerful foothold. Each week, the organization blames a new source for gun sales and violence. "The two people who are selling so-called assault rifles are Senator [Dianne] Feinstein and President Obama, not us," Keene argued Sunday on CNN. His organization has also blamed gun violence on the media and video games. Although, perplexingly, the NRA released a free-shooter game app for iPhones on January 13, targeted at ages 4 and up.