'A new era on guns:' Gun-safety groups look to 2020 a year after Parkland

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 2/12/2019, 8:44 a.m.
Nearly a year after a gunman massacred 17 students and staffers at a Parkland, Florida, high school, the political landscape ...

By Fredreka Schouten, CNN

(CNN) -- Nearly a year after a gunman massacred 17 students and staffers at a Parkland, Florida, high school, the political landscape on guns has shifted.

Dozens of lawmakers endorsed by the gun-safety group Everytown for Gun Safety now hold seats in the US House -- many part of a freshman wave that helped Democrats seize control of the chamber in November's midterm elections. More than 20 states have passed some form of gun regulation in the last year, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. And a growing number of companies are risking customer backlash to link their brands to the gun-safety movement.

Gun-control advocates say nationwide student protests after Parkland -- and the grim succession of mass shootings that have followed in the year since -- all have spurred the further shift in gun politics. And they say a strategy adopted years ago -- to follow a trail blazed by same-sex marriage advocates and take their fights to the states and corporate America -- is paying off.

In the coming year, the gun debate could be thrust into the center of the looming 2020 presidential campaign like never before.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the largest financial benefactors of the gun-safety movement, is considering entering the Democratic presidential primary. One early 2020 contender -- New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who once earned an A-rating from the National Rifle Association as a moderate Democrat representing an upstate House district -- already has spent part of her campaign rollout explaining her evolution on the gun issue to an increasingly progressive Democratic electorate.

"We're heading toward a new era on guns," said Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at the centrist think tank Third Way and a former aide to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. "I think the tables have turned on the NRA. The gun-safety organizations are just better and smarter than they used to be. They have a lot more resources than they have in the past."

In House races last year, groups and candidates promoting gun control spent an estimated $23.6 million on television campaign ads -- more than three times the amount spent on ads opposing gun control, according to a Kantar-CMAG analysis prepared for CNN. That's a stark reversal from the 2014 midterms when anti-gun control ads outnumbered gun-control spots by nearly 5-to-1.

Last year, the National Rifle Association's spending in federal races dropped sharply, following a record $54 million in 2016 contests, including $30 million to elect pro-gun President Donald Trump, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.

"Gun safety is no longer the third rail of American politics," said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown, a Bloomberg-aligned group that plowed $30 million into the 2018 midterm elections for Congress. "We've buried that myth."

In one of the latest examples of the growing corporate activism on guns, Blake Mycoskie, the founder of the California-based Toms shoe company, heads to Capitol Hill this week to deliver more than 700,000 postcards. They urge lawmakers to pass one of the first bills introduced by the new Democratic majority in the House: a measure that would impose background checks on virtually all gun sales.