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Opinion: If Americans Really Want to Address Gun Violence, It’s Democracy, Stupid

The déjà vu massacre of school children in Uvalde, Texas seems to have heated Americans’ frustrations with the inaction of their political leaders to a raging boil.

Turn on the news, and one hears outrage over the out-sized influence of the NRA and gun lobbyists over the Republican Party. Pundits and viewers are sickened by the spectacle of Congressional Republicans repetitively chanting the same hackneyed talking points that deny access to guns, particularly assault rifles, has anything to do with the epidemic of gun violence in America.

And, without a doubt, the outrage is justified. I share it.

Typically the solution to addressing the problem of political leaders who don’t represent their constituents is to vote them out of office, to exercise the democratic process itself.

Maybe this sounds simple, but in so many ways it doesn’t seem to be. Even when voters, living in regions where polls have indicated strong support for strict gun regulation, have had the opportunity to vote directly for ballot measures to enforce gun controls, the measures have failed.

More to the point, though, is that even the window of democracy is closing upon us as a form of action for Americans to address their frustrations over governmental failures to address the life and death issues that concern them.

In a recent opinion piece, Washington Post columnist Max Boot attempted to sound the alarm over the ongoing Republican assault on democracy itself—and about the fact that Americans seem to be in denial about the fragility of democracy in America.

Boot reminds us, for example, that, “A majority of House Republicans already voted in 2020 to throw out electoral college votes for Biden. Even more are likely to do so in 2024 after four years of Trumpist purges.”

And yet polls and pundits do not yet foresee a surge of voters foregoing their Republican leanings or allegiances in the upcoming midterms.

If not in denial, Americans just might not care about democracy, by which I mean they might not fully recognize how every issue they care about is bound up with and depends upon democracy itself when it comes to their ability to do anything about it.

So, it would follow that if we Americans are fed up with political inaction as we watch our children and fellow citizens fall to gun violence, we would be equally concerned about having our political voice and power minimized, if not negated, by the assault on democracy we are witnessing through voter suppression, gerrymandering, and outright abuse and denial of our democratic processes themselves.

Boots’ observation that Americans are not alarmed or are in denial over the rapid waning of our democracy seems to me to have merit.

We simply don’t see the same outrage we see with mass shootings over the violent and murderous assault that took place on the Capitol on January 6 or with efforts to stop Americans from voting.

And this effort has been underway for some time.

Back in 2013, Chief Justice John Roberts led the Supreme Court in gutting the Voting Rights Act. It was that devastating ruling, as I’ve charted previously in the pages of PoliticusUSA, that opened the doors for the spate of voter suppression laws Republican-led legislatures have been passing across the nation.  Much of the voter suppression legislation, saturated with racist overtones, simply would not have been possible without Roberts’ ruling.

In 2019, Roberts again led a crusade in the Supreme Court to aid and abet the erosion of democracy by writing the ruling that enabled and upheld partisan gerrymandering.

A simple look at the impact of gerrymandering makes clear how our so-called democracy has already been greatly undermined and subjected the nation to minority rule, or a tyranny of the minority.

Indeed, gerrymandering and the filibuster have long enabled Republicans to govern as a tyranny of the minority.

After the 2018 mid-terms, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow explained just how severely Republican districting efforts—or gerrymandering—skewed the electoral map in favor of a Republican minority.

In that mid-term in Wisconsin, 53 percent of the votes for positions in the state legislature went for Democratic candidates, with Republican candidates receiving 45 percent of the votes.  Yet—check this out—Republicans were elected into 64 percent of the seats!

Maddow asked and answered her own question: “Why is that? Because they tilted the playing field.”

In that same report, she identified a similar dynamic in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, all key swing states playing major factors in national elections.

The filibuster, like gerrymandering, is just one more tool the Republicans use to claim the power of the majority when they represent a minority of the electorate.  Even worse, as we saw with the American Rescue Plan Act, they don’t even represent their minority.

In fact, polling across the nation, even in Texas, indicates broad and majoritarian support for stricter gun regulations, including universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons, “red flag” laws and more, and yet Republicans don’t have to respond to the majority because they don’t need a majority to elect them.

We see the same with Roe v. Wade. The vast majority of Americans do not support it being overturned. Yet we may learn soon that five or six individuals have the power to do so.

All of these issues—women’s right to choose, gun control, the rights of people to love how they want and marry whom they want, and much more—depend on one issue: democracy.

Even having a just and fair economy depends on democracy.

So, it’s really not the economy, stupid.

It’s democracy, stupid.

As the January 6 hearings go live this week, we’ll see if Americans tune in and start to care about the one issue on which all of their political interests depend.


Tim Libretti

Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman's Press Association.

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