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As GOP blinks, liberals urge Democrats to demand more aggressive gun measures

Alex Roarty, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Democrats have a familiar response after every mass shooting: Expand background checks.

Some liberals say that's not good enough anymore.

In the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting that left 58 dead and more than 500 wounded, a collection of operatives and longtime gun control advocates are trying to persuade Democrats to think bigger. Rather than focus on expanding background checks, they argue the party should be talking about banning some types of guns outright, restricting open carry, and even creating a national licensing system.

It's a step many of them think is not only good policy but good politics, convinced that aggressive measures are both supported by most voters and will energize progressives.

"The Democrats' problem on guns is in parallel to a larger party problem, which is a tendency to mumble about something we think we might get, rather than saying what we actually want," said Mark Glaze, former executive director for Everytown for Gun Safety.

The push for a more aggressive posture is rejected by many Democrats and gun control advocates, who say more discreet policy proposals, such as expanding background checks, will both reduce gun deaths and play well with more voters. Many of them say the fact Democrats are united behind those measures is a remarkable achievement on its own, especially given the party's traditional reluctance to support gun control in any way for fear of alienating culturally conservative voters.

Indeed, this week congressional Democrats have by and large stuck to calling for expanded background checks and banning "bump stocks," which authorities believe Stephen Paddock used to increase his rate of fire during the deadly shooting in Las Vegas.

Yet, even as Republicans appear to be ready, with the NRA's blessing, to consider restricting bump stocks, liberals want Democrats to demand more. To Glaze and his allies, focusing on narrow fixes misses a larger shift within politics and the Democratic Party, which has been buttressed by an influx of energy from progressive activists since the election of President Donald Trump. They think the party would benefit from moving to the left on the issue to stoke its base, similar to arguments many other liberals have made on issues like single-payer health care or tuition-free college.

"When we keep mumbling about background checks, it kills base enthusiasm," Glaze said. "And that's not a recipe for winning."

Glaze is now a senior adviser to Guns Down, a group that advocates for what officials there see a bolder approach to gun control legislation. Officials there argue that in addition to rallying progressives, their proposals are broadly popular with the public.

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