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What Gun Control Advocates Can Learn From Marriage Equality

What Gun Control Advocates Can Learn From Marriage Equality

Daniel Hernandez Jr

Daniel Hernandez survived a mass shooting that severely injured his former boss, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Four years and countless mass shootings later, Hernandez says what needs to happen to reduce violence.

San Bernandino, Colorado Springs, Roanoke, Charleston, Tucson. Only some of the latest additions to the ever-growing list of communities struck by gun violence.

Why don't our elected leaders do anything to change laws on guns? Why must 90+ people die each and every single day because of gun violence in this country?

These are questions that I get any time a notable shooting occurs and I often respond, "This is a marathon, not a sprint." Many people say they fear that this issue is so polarizing that it will never be resolved.

Like the fight for marriage equality, at times it can seem nearly impossible. But in the battle for equal marriage, we can glean some important lessons that I think we must heed.

First, public opinion is out of step with mainstream political "wisdom." We've already won the minds of voters. Now it's time to win their hearts. Poll after poll, in state after state and nationally, shows that the vast majority of Americans agree on some basic principles. Those who are criminals and those who are dangerously mentally ill should not have access to firearms. And the best way to prevent that is to close the giant loopholes that exist in background checks, particularly for private sales.

Similar to marriage equality advocates, we need to change the conversation. While it's easy to rely on facts, the one thing the opposition has always been first and better at achieving is a simple message that resonates. We need to focus on the human impact by sharing the stories of those directly impacted by gun violence. It is not enough to outsmart our adversaries; we have to get people to believe in our message and our cause with their hearts.

Second, don't let Congress off the hook. but also don't count on it to do anything. Congress is the place where nothing gets done. Oftentimes people talk about the lack of success at the federal level as a measure of failure. What we need to do is focus on state and local victories, which are happening all the time. More than 15 states have closed the loophole for private sales, most recently in giant victories in the states of Colorado and Washington. Given those victories at the state and local level, as with nondiscrimination ordinances and marriage equality, we need to keep our focus on the local impact. Build up a critical mass to the point that there will be no option except for federal action, either through executive order or in the courts.

Third and most important, we need to do what the other side has had a head start on for decades: Make politicians realize that their votes and stances have consequences. Whether it's the conservative Christian groups or the National Rifle Association, the message has always been the same: Support us and you'll be rewarded; oppose us and we will mobilize people and money against you. We need politicans not to see us as a special interest group but instead a movement. Activating the passion that people feel to turn them into single-issue voters will be hard, but without a dedicated and passionate grassroots effort behind us, we will never succeed.

If we can achieve marriage equality only a few years after the repeals of "don't ask, don't tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act, then there's no reason we won't be able to accomplish commonsense gun reforms. We just have to heed the lessons from those who have achieved victories that seemed impossible just a short time ago.

DANIEL HERNANDEZ is a school board member in Arizona's Sunnyside District and a former congressional intern. Follow him on Twitter @djblp.

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