(The Root) — When President Obama said, "This was a pretty shameful day in Washington," after the Senate defeated a bill that would have expanded background checks for those purchasing firearms, he expressed the sentiments of many Americans, perhaps up to 90 percent of them. That's the number of Americans that polls show support universal background checks on gun purchasers, but apparently that number is not high enough to convince 60 members of the Senate to support expanding those background checks.
There was a lot of finger-pointing happening on Thursday, and that will continue in the coming weeks. A lot of those fingers will be pointed squarely at the NRA, along with the members of the Senate whom the organization has lobbied, bought and bullied into submission. But there is plenty of blame to go around, and some of that blame belongs to progressives.
A USA Today and Suffolk University Poll released just before the 2012 election found that if eligible voters who tend not to vote did, the 2012 election would have been a landslide for President Obama.
Just think about that for a moment.
Those telling pollsters that they were unlikely to vote supported President Obama over Gov. Mitt Romney by a margin of 2-to-1. What's particularly disturbing about that poll's findings is that more voters participate in presidential elections than in midterm elections.
More than 57 percent of eligible voters turned out in 2012, while only 40 percent turned out for the 2010 midterm elections. What many people don't seem to realize is that although the presidential election is important, in some ways it is not nearly as important as those elections that determine who occupies the House and the Senate, as well as the local state Houses, state Senates, assemblies and school boards.
Many of the issues on which progressives now find themselves on the ropes — from reproductive rights to voting rights and even diversity in history textbooks — are issues on which conservatives gained momentum at the local level. Examples include local Texas elected officials' approval of edits to textbooks that made studying the inaugural address of the president of the Confederacy part of the curriculum, and North Dakota's extreme abortion law.
And then there are gun laws. Thanks to its concealed-handgun law, people can carry guns into church in my home state of Texas. But while many people console themselves with thoughts like "Thank goodness I don't live there," anyone who doesn't vote in every single election makes it all that more likely that laws like these can surface at the national level.
My point is that this week's gun vote should not have even been close. Suffolk's polling indicates that there are far more American adults who agree with Barack Obama on the issues than there are opponents, and other polls showed overwhelming support for universal background checks, meaning that there are a substantial number of adults who back commonsense gun control. But because not all of these adults vote in every single election — for the House and the Senate — we end up with the yahoos we have now, who don't represent us but instead represent people just like them.
Perhaps the fallout from the travesty — and shame, as President Obama called it — of the failure to expand universal background checks will finally wake up those progressives who stay home during most elections, or who maybe turn up only every four years. If they did wake up and decide to become full participants in our democracy, this would be a far different America and, in terms of gun violence, a safer America.
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.