You’ve probably seen this tweet before—most likely in the wake of a mass shooting like the one that happened in Las Vegas late Sunday night:
In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.
— (((Dan Hodges))) (@DPJHodges) June 19, 2015
Let me put this as clearly as possible: I hate this tweet. I hate everything this tweet stands for. I hate how popular it has become among progressives. I hate that it gets dragged out and dusted off on social media like some hideous but shiny ornament every time some angry white man decides to murder a large number of people in a public space.
I grew up in rural Wisconsin; we’re warm-hearted people so hating doesn’t come easy to me. But I hate this tweet because it’s indicative of the despair that smart and good-natured people fall into when they perceive an insurmountable challenge. It’s framed as a wise observation about human behavior, but really it’s a message of apathy, of nihilism. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s when decent people throw their hands in the air and give up.
Like you, I felt horrified and heartbroken when I woke Monday morning to the news about the massacre in Las Vegas. And like you, I’ve felt this way before—after the Pulse shooting in Orlando, after Sandy Hook, after Café Racer and last month’s Freeman High School shooting in Spokane. But you can’t allow that shock and horror and sadness to fester and sour into despair. That’s how things get worse. You have to set your broken heart toward action.
I’ve fought seemingly hopeless political battles my entire life. When I ran Washington’s same-sex marriage referendum, people explained to me again and again exactly why it was a fool’s errand, why voters would never embrace marriage equality. They told me that I was wasting my time, and the time and energy of the thousands of volunteers we had out doorbelling and calling and talking to their friends about marriage equality.
I heard the same negativity when I helped found the Alliance for Gun Responsibility in 2013. In the time since Hodges wrote that damn tweet, Washington state has made great progress in the fight against gun violence. Most importantly, voters overwhelmingly approved two initiatives: 1) to require background checks for every gun purchase in this state (Initiative 594) and 2) to prevent dangerous people from acquiring guns (Initiative 1491).
These weren't small victories. People from all walks of life from across the state came together and took on the gun lobby. And we kicked their ass. Doubters said it couldn't be done. And we did it. Twice.
After those victories, a bipartisan team of legislators in Olympia got together and started passing laws, including a commonsense bill that notifies police and victims of violence if a person with a record of violent incidents tries to buy a gun.
And we’re not alone: red and blue states around the nation have passed laws like this. And armies of volunteers full of people like you have helped block NRA bills that would have required guns on college campuses and—I’m not joking—in kindergarten classrooms. Despite defeatist whines from naysayers, we are making progress.
Political progress is a slow march—until, suddenly, it isn’t. Same-sex marriage was an arduous fight played out in cities and states until it became the law of the land. It took the NRA a lot of work—three decades of lobbying, message discipline, and campaigning—to develop the illusion of inevitability that Hodges despairs over. We’re fighting the gun lobby and winning right here in Washington state, and if enough of us turn away from despair and start to take action, we can keep winning.
So what can you do?
- Give money, or, better, time, to the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. We’re promoting a slate of smart gun safety laws to our legislators in Washington state, and we could use your help. Other great organizations making progress in the fight across the country include Moms Demand Action and Everytown.
- Find out what’s next for Washington state from Nick Hanauer and Renee Hopkins in this piece, "Enough with ‘Thoughts and Prayers’— Time to Act"
- Vote for candidates who are vocal supporters of stronger gun laws. I love Pod Save America host Jon Lovett’s suggestion, too, of calling your elected officials and asking them, “What’s your plan to stop mass shootings?” Hold them accountable. Be relentless and smart in your communications. Which leads to my next point:
- Be on message. This is a page we should steal from the Republican playbook. They are fantastic at staying in lockstep when talking about guns. We can be better. For starters: stop talking about “gun control.” That’s the conservative framing, and it automatically puts you at a disadvantage. Who—on the left or the right—likes to be controlled? What we’re talking about is responsibility, safety and protection. Don’t get into endless fights with belligerent randos asking leading questions on social media. Do provide good information to people asking for it. Ask open-ended questions of politicians that can’t be shut down with a binary yes-or-no answer. Share personal stories, and try to stay positive.
- Most importantly, don’t despair. Every time you stay quiet, or surrender, you’re doing exactly what the NRA wants you to do. Be proud of the work that you’re doing. Know that you’re not alone, and that you’re already saving lives. This is not an easy fight, and the losses hurt us to the very core of our beings. But it is a winnable fight, and you are not alone. Hundreds of thousands of people are on the march against gun violence every day. Don’t despair. Mount up.
Zach Silk is president of Civic Ventures and chair of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility.