EC: It [is] hard for me to believe that there are many members of Congress that wouldn’t vote for universal background checks and reasonable laws like the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act that I sponsored if it were not for the NRA. There are clearly a number of my colleagues who are concerned about the NRA spending funds to defeat them in a primary challenge.
This is a matter of political survival, and they are compromising their moral principles for political expediency. My colleagues know that voting for such legislation would bring about a far-right Republican opponent in the next election. And knowing that the gun lobby would be supporting their challenger causes a lot of Republicans to hesitate and not take the chance.
TR: Will you take a bold stand and reintroduce gun control legislation despite the headwinds and political stalemate?
EC: Our first attempt was bipartisan and got nowhere. Scott Rigell is a Republican from Virginia, and Rep. Patrick Meehan is a Republican from Pennsylvania. They both stood with Carolyn Maloney of New York and me in our push for legislation. And though I have often said that you must keep pushing legislation until the time comes, I’m less hopeful in this situation.
Newtown was the best time to do it because the issue was so clear. And the public had a lot of information about it. I can’t see myself right now putting anything forward because the support simply isn’t there. And I think, sadly, that’s how the president and many of my colleagues feel.
TR: In light of the debate over the last few weeks about the children and civilians massacred in the Syrian civil war — and America’s moral responsibility to act — is it not hypocritical that our politicians will consider spending billions to police democratic values abroad but won’t act to prevent the murder of thousands in America?
EC: Yes. And I wonder about where our priorities are. We have children who are suffering here at home. When I visit high schools and ask children what is most important to them, they will tell me it is their safety. Especially when I speak to young African-American males, it is their safety that most concerns them.
It seems to me that we should look into our own backyards and react with the same fervor and sense of outrage that we do when we see children abroad slain senselessly and victims of unfettered, inexplicable violence. That is the kind of moral leadership that my colleagues and I were elected to provide.
Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.