Even Republican voters want more gun laws. Why don’t their representatives?

by LZ Granderson

The Alamo and the Riverwalk are the landmarks most associated with San Antonio, but they don’t tell you as much about the city as its nickname does: Military City, USA. It’s been called that since World War II. The largest joint base in our Department of Defense is in San Antonio. Almost every enlisted medic is trained in San Antonio. 

And Military City, USA, is where Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has lived and worked for more than 30 years. He’s an Air Force veteran himself, and the NBA’s winningest coach, so on Sunday when he used his final pregame conference of the season to advocate for more gun control, his comments quickly became a top news story. 

That is until a 25-year-old killed five and injured eight others with an AR-15-style rifle less than 24 hours later at a bank in Louisville, Ky. 

Pop’s impassioned speech named names, calling out individuals in Congress who could do something about the American problem with gun violence. If any of them were inclined to offer a rebuttal, their voices were drowned out Monday by the bloodshed. 

It was the nation’s 146th mass shooting this year. A shocking number. Want to know what’s even more shocking? We passed that number while I was writing this column. Police in Washington, D.C., said one person was shot dead and three others injured outside a funeral home Tuesday. 

We’re closing in on 9,000 gun-related injuries so far in 2023, and we’ve exceeded 11,000 gun deaths. 

Red states and blue states. 

Big cities and small towns. 

The young and the old. 

It doesn’t matter to the bullets. 

And this toll doesn’t matter enough to Republican members of Congress. There’s no need to soft-shoe it. Popovich didn’t. 

“I mean, I couldn’t believe it, so I wrote this thing down, but Sen. Marsha Blackburn, her comment after was, after the massacre, ‘My office is in contact with federal, state and local officials and we stand ready to assist,’ ” Popovich read. “In what?! They’re dead,” he shouted before later adding: “The greed of the gun lobbies and the manufacturers is obvious. … Money talks, but the cowardice and the selfishness of the legislators who are so scared to death of being primaried and losing their job …”  

He’s right about all of it. 

And the fact that he’s not afraid to call out conservatives by name on this issue while also being one of the most recognizable faces in Military City, USA, should tell you just how out of touch some of the Republicans in Congress are. They don’t know their own base. Why are elected officials so worried that gun legislation would stir up opposition in their next primary? Backing gun control measures that 90% of Americans support is not dangerous. There would be nothing brave about a Republican coming out in favor of universal background checks. 

Politicians who cling to once-safe positions will be left behind when public opinion turns, as it has on gun policy. 

The Prohibition Party used to be more influential in this country until voters decided they wanted a drink. I’m not kidding. A portion of President Hoover’s 1929 inaugural address touted his commitment to enforcing prohibition, and then by 1933 we had a new president and the 18th Amendment was repealed by the 21st one. 

Come November 2024, there will be 33 Senate seats and 435 House seats up for grabs. There’s a crucial opportunity before then. Primary season should not be the time of year to rubber-stamp familiar faces. If candidates are spending more time railing against vampires, werewolves and drag queens than they are talking about gun violence, they are not serious and should not be sent to the general election. 

Republican voters, you should have options in your primary. There should be some GOP candidates who agree with the American public that Congress should do something to curb gun violence. It is possible to dislike President Biden and still vote for someone who has more to offer after a mass shooting than thoughts and prayers. 

The reason nothing changes is that we have a tendency to treat primary season as the warm-up act for the general. In Texas, where the Uvalde massacre happened not quite a year ago, fewer than 1 in 5 registered voters participated in the 2022 primary. 

The gun lobby is not the sole reason for our growing problem with gun violence. The cowards Popovich spoke about are the beneficiaries of an electorate that waits until November. It’s in the primary where more solutions to our gun crisis lie. 

There are conservatives who believe in responsible gun ownership or who don’t wait until children are killed before talking about who should or shouldn’t have access to assault weapons. Voters should get more of them onto the ballot and put them in office. The FBI believes nearly 300,000 guns were purchased without a background check during the COVID-19 pandemic. There have to be conservative potential candidates out there who find that number disturbing. 

“You know, these people, they think we’re stupid — Republican and Democratic alike,” Popovich said. “But they might be right because they get away with that crap.”  

I don’t know if members of Congress think we’re stupid, but when it comes to the legislative body’s response to the gun violence crisis, it is getting away with a lot of crap. My hope is that we start using the primary to clean things up. 

LZ Granderson is an op-ed columnist for the Los Angeles Times.