[“They just need to know it happened.”]
Biden’s Unexpected Gun Control Problem
06/26/2023; from POLITICO’s West Wing Playbook
It’s been a year since President JOE BIDEN signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act into law, breaking a 30-year dry spell for gun legislation.
And, by all indications, it should be a boon politically for him. At 76 percent support among battleground voters, the gun law is nearly just as popular as Biden’s infrastructure legislation (77 percent), and even more so than the Inflation Reduction Act (70 percent), according to a new poll released Monday and first shared with West Wing Playbook by Global Strategy Group, commissioned by Giffords.
The problem? A huge swath of voters don’t know it’s passed.
The high approval rating in the poll came only after voters were told about the law. In fact, 56 percent of voters in key battleground states — Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin — said they had heard nothing about the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.
“I imagine we’ll expect to see the White House hit the road as they did two weeks ago to talk about the successes of the law,” said PETER AMBLER, executive director of Giffords [Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence] , when asked about the messaging gap. “But it’s not something that they have done a road tour around yet.” The communication gap with voters speaks to a challenge for the president’s reelection strategy. Biden’s team plans to center a campaign around a long list of legislative accomplishments and will have to decide how much time and resources to spend on each one. Without ample messaging, some of those wins could fall through the cracks with voters.
Guns will continue to be a major focus for the president through the election as he continues his push for an assault weapons ban, campaign officials told West Wing Playbook. But running on the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act isn’t as straightforward as standing in front of a bridge or pointing to new electric vehicle charging stations.
Shootings haven’t stopped since Uvalde spurred lawmakers into action. Halfway through 2023, there have been 328 mass shootings in which four or more people were injured or killed, according to the Gun Violence Archive. And each new shooting serves as a reminder that politicians haven’t been able to solve the problem, said one Democratic pollster who asked to remain anonymous to discuss what they’ve learned from campaign focus groups. It creates unease for Democratic campaigns leaning into success on guns.
“It’s very important when you’re communicating about this law to not oversell it. If you try and tell people that this is everything that we need, they are appropriately skeptical,” Ambler said.
Biden’s speech in Connecticut this month tried to strike this balance: The bipartisan law is an important first step, but not nearly enough. “State legislators and Congressional Republicans need to use the Act as an opening to do more. If Congressional Republicans want to fight crime, they should join the President in highlighting how the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act is doing exactly that, and then they should send an assault weapons ban to the president’s desk,” principal deputy press secretary OLIVIA DALTON said in a statement.
In coming months, Biden and Vice President KAMALA HARRIS, STEVE BENJAMIN, director of the Office of Public Engagement, and NEERA TANDEN, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, will be key among the messengers on this issue, a White House official told West Wing Playbook.
But selling a piece of legislation is easier when there are tangible results to point to. Giffords on Monday also sent the White House a report with a foreword from Sen. CHRIS MURPHY (D-Conn.), highlighting a list of steps the gun group says the administration needs to take to further implement the law.
The White House is also working closely with the Regional Leadership Council, an arm of House Democratic leadership that’s been tasked with promoting the string of legislative wins. Led by Rep. STENY HOYER (D-Md.), the group has deployed its members to promote the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and will continue to do so in the coming months as kids go back to school, which it sees as a natural hook for highlighting the gun law.
Building Back Together, the Biden-allied group that coordinates among Democrats to highlight the administration’s agenda, is also working to sell the gun bill by highlighting local examples of how the money is being used. But they, too, acknowledge that the first step is informing voters that the law exists.
“The value add here is that when folks hear about this stuff, they like it,” said MCKENZIE WILSON, BBT communications director. “They just need to know it happened.”