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While the national conversation around gun safety is changing, many political hurdles loom

The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglass high school in Parkland, Florida galvanized the student-led movement, “March For Our Lives" and a dialogue on gun-safety. But federal political efforts for reform stalled. Today, President Biden called on Congress to “enact commonsense gun law reforms." Jennifer Mascia, news writer for the Trace, a non-profit newsroom focusing on gun violence, joins.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    It was three years ago today that a mass shooter killed 17 and wounded 17 more at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The governor ordered flags to fly at half staff, and there were vigils and a moment of silence across schools in the state to mark the tragedy.

    The shooting motivated a national student-led "March for Our Lives Protest" and helped change the dialogue on stronger gun control laws, but major efforts for reform stalled.

    Today, President Biden released a statement calling on Congress to act now and "enact commonsense gun law reforms, including requiring background checks on all gun sales, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines…"

    For more on gun control legislation, I recently spoke with Jennifer Mascia, news writer for The Trace, a non-profit newsroom focusing on America's gun violence crisis.

    Jennifer, anti-violence and gun control advocates have been waiting for a long time until, let's say, the Democrats had control of the White House, the Senate and the House. Here we are. Are they likely to see what they want?

  • Jennifer Mascia:

    Well, there are a lot of priorities right now, and Senate Democrats understand that the country is in crisis, but gun violence is still a priority. And they stress that in the conversations we had last week. Now, I'd say within the first 100 days, you never want to say never, but it seems doubtful. There is a lot on lawmakers' plates right now, but they are committed and remain optimistic despite some political realities. It's a very fraught atmosphere right now, and guns to many people are still a third rail.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What about the balance of power in the Senate? Who really has control here when it's such a razor-thin margin?

  • Jennifer Mascia:

    Well, the new configuration empowers moderate Democrats and Republicans, people like Joe Manchin, people who are center-left and center-right. But the truth is, with this razor-thin majority, like you said, really what I'm hearing over and over again is the filibuster is a big obstacle until there can be a vote on a simple majority. Getting 60 votes is very difficult. You know, in 2013 after Sandy Hook, the universal background check bill came six votes short. And that was when Democrats had a majority, but they still couldn't reach 60. So to be honest, it's very uphill. And what I'm hearing is the filibuster really, really matters in this.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    I even moderated a town hall with then-Vice President Joe Biden after Sandy Hook. And that was an era where people thought, you know what, if nothing happens after 26 little kids were shot down in elementary school, we're never going to get anywhere. Has the landscape changed since then?

  • Jennifer Mascia:

    That was a big failure and it was devastating for gun violence prevention advocates and survivors. After that, though, it triggered a wave of support for the gun violence prevention movement. And they had a lot of state victories backing bills in state legislatures and ballot initiatives. When gun violence is on the ballot, voters in most cases tend to favor gun reforms. So federally, the inaction was devastating, but it did empower a lot of people.

    And then there was a second wave of empowerment and activism on the anti-gun violence front, and that was Parkland. And after Parkland, it became a situation where Democrats were not afraid to run on gun reform, where before they would bury their gun reform credentials and not really make that a talking point in debates. Things have definitely changed. But one thing that has gotten more extreme about the landscape is the politically fraught era we're in where we still have fervent Trump supporters, and something like curtailing gun rights, which some of these bills would do for certain people, is really not politically palatable with those voters.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What about the influence and power of the NRA? How has that changed?

  • Jennifer Mascia:

    The influence of the NRA, that is something that I was very interested to see. Does the NRA still have sway over these lawmakers? And the NRA, one political scientist told me, is like many political parties, they pick primary candidates to back and they put a lot of money behind them. They turn out ads at a moment's notice. So they are like a machine.

    And that infrastructure, well, it may not be as strong as it was in the past because the NRA is having some problems right now. There are allegations of financial misdeeds. They filed for bankruptcy, but the fear of getting primaried for Republicans, especially when there are a lot of Trump supporters out there who tend to punish disloyalty, is still very real. So it's that fear of losing their job basically is still there, even if the NRA is not as strong. Trumpism, in a way, has eclipsed it.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Jennifer Mascia of Trace, thanks so much.

  • Jennifer Mascia:

    Thank you.

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