The Democrat running in purple CA-25 House district deftly threads political needle between reform advocates, gun owners.
Democratic political candidates looking to break the National Rifle Association’s purported stranglehold on gun-owning voters need look no further than Katie Hill’s campaign for the House of Representatives in California’s 25th Congressional district for a how-to lesson on the subject.
Hill, a 31-year-old first-time Democratic candidate and daughter of a police officer, fought her way through a hotly competitive June primary in which her gun ownership was sometimes wielded as a political sword by her Democratic opponents. While she struggled then to explain exactly how a gun-owning Democrat might persuade other gun owners to vote for her rather than her 100% NRA-voting opponent, GOP Rep. Steve Knight, Hill’s strategy for successfully threading that political needle becomes clearer as Election Day approaches.
Hill’s approach was on full display during an Oct. 14 rally at her Santa Clarita, Calif., campaign headquarters. There, supporters – including members of gun safety advocacy organizations such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Women Against Gun Violence, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and Everytown for Gun Safety – cheered as former Rep. Gabby Giffords and her husband, ex-astronaut Mark Kelly, delivered a full-throated endorsement of Hill’s candidacy.
But speakers didn’t deliver the sort of gun safety message attendees of a Democratic campaign event might have heard in years past.
More nuanced approach
Not one speaker called for a ban on gun ownership. No one argued the definition of 2nd Amendment rights. And no one declared the NRA public enemy number one.
Instead, as Kat Walker, Local Group Leader of the Moms Demand Action chapter in the 25th,, put it while announcing MDA’s week-old endorsement of Hill, “We’re not anti-Second-Amendment, we’re anti-gun violence.”
Every day in America, Walker reported, 96 people, including eight children and teens, are killed by gun violence. Another 39 children and teens are shot but survive. And every month, she added, 50 American women are shot and killed by their husbands or significant others. And most gun owners, she said, “are for common-sense gun safety reform.”
Loren Lieb, who was propelled into gun safety activism in July 1999 when her then six-year-old son was among three young children, a teen and an adult shot by a white supremacist at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in suburban Granada Hills, told the audience, “I work for candidates who support common-sense gun legislation,” before sharing the national Brady Campaign’s decision to endorse Hill.
As Lieb, Co-President of Brady’s San Fernando Valley Chapter, Board Chair of WAGV and a CA25 resident, explained, “We are pro-safety, not anti-gun. Steve Knight is for gun lobby profits over peoples’ safety and lives.”
Speaking next as a leader of Giffords PAC: Courage to Fight Gun Violence, which is supporting the Hill campaign, Mark Kelly said, “The politics are changing on this issue rapidly… Democrats…used to be worried about the power of the gun lobby – but that’s changing.”
In 2012, when legislation to permit interstate concealed carry reciprocity was first proposed in Congress, “40 Democrats voted yes. In 2017…only five Democrats voted yes, and there were ten GOP no votes,” Kelly shared.
“The GOP has not succeeded at concealed carry reciprocity, on the legalization of silencers, or on eliminating gun-free zones at K-12 schools,” Kelly added, while cautioning that they’re now trying to arm teachers.
“If we flip the House, and eventually win the Senate and the White House, we can get good laws passed.”
Winning hearts and minds
The data suggests he’s right.
As a recent Huffington Post piece reported, 90 percent of American gun owners do not belong to the NRA – throwing water on the argument that its membership is some sort of unbeatable voting behemoth.
And, gun owners aren’t all Republicans. A 2017 Pew Survey confirmed that, while 56 percent of those who identify as Republican or lean Republican live in gun-owning households, nearly a third of those who identify as Democratic or lean Democratic also live in homes with guns.
Those facts suggest candidate Hill is right to suggest that there are gun-owning votes to be won by Democratic candidates who advocate rational solutions to America’s gun violence epidemic. Hill has staked out a clear, simply articulated stance: she will seek to replicate California’s comprehensive list of gun safety legislative actions at the federal level.
Gabby Giffords clearly agrees with that plan.
In her own now familiar, staccato-short but firmly impassioned phrasing, Giffords closed the event, telling a packed house hanging on her every word, “We MUST stand up! We MUST stop gun violence. We MUST do better! Protect our children. Protect our future. Stand with me: Vote. Vote. VOTE!”