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Dem Congresswoman to Activists: Don't Say 'Control' When Talking Gun Laws

WASHINGTON – Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.) called for campaign finance reform to mitigate the gun lobby’s influence on the political process and urged Democrats to drop the phrase “gun control.”

Esty said gay Americans, in particular, shouldn’t support government “control” of any aspect of their lives so they should use the term “gun safety” instead of “gun control” when advocating for tougher gun laws.

She told attendees at the Center for American Progress Action Fund event that the NRA leadership is “way out of touch” with its membership on the issue of background checks for every gun sale.

“I mean, the numbers have been consistent since Newtown: about 90 percent of the American people support background checks on each and every gun sale, 90 percent – that figure has not changed. That's consistent, 90 percent, but elections matter and, in particular, the GOP leadership in Congress is beholden to the gun lobby and I think it's important to make a distinction between the NRA, certainly the NRA membership, because remember, the NRA membership, 70 to 80 percent of the NRA membership supports background checks on every gun sale so it's one where leadership is way out of touch with membership,” Esty said during a discussion Wednesday, “The Pulse Nightclub Shooting One Year Later: Community Impacts and Policy Proposals to End Violence Against LGBTQ Communities.”

“I learned to shoot in an NRA course, a camp, so did my boys. Like you, I'm a believer in the Second Amendment, but there's a big difference between that and allowing anyone, anywhere, anytime, to be packing heat when they shouldn't – and that is really where the battle lines are now,” she added. “So we need to make that clear distinction, so elections have consequences and it’s important to support candidates who are not beholden to the gun lobby. So we need campaign finance reform to reduce the power of money, we need to increase activation of people who support common sense.”

Esty explained that she “never” uses the term “gun control,” adding that “government control” has not worked out well for the LBGTQ community.

“I’d never say gun control, never ever, ever say that. Do you want the government taking control of your life, anybody in this room? For my brother and his husband – they don’t want control by government of their lives, that's not been a good thing for the LGBTQ community, much of any of us as Americans we don't want government control of our lives,” she said. “We want the respect and rights and privileges and responsibilities of every other American. That's what we want, right? That's what we want and so that's why we really should be talking about gun safety.”

Esty called on progressives to work on countering the gun lobby’s financial influence on the political process.

“Every time you use the words gun control, folks, this is my little soapbox having worked on this for four and a half years, you are giving up 15 percent of your support from men. Believe me, in the U.S. Congress we can't afford to lose 15 percent of any constituency, much less half, a little less than half, of the voting public,” she said.

“So, again, words matter, words matter on that and the gun lobby, which is concerned with selling guns and its fancy doodads – the latest ones being silencers, which we appear to need now. But remember this, that it's not gun owners, it's the gun lobby that is putting us at risk and their money funneled into campaigns,” she added. “We need to counter that effect.”

The moderator asked Esty for her reaction to congressional candidates who try to “steer clear” of the gun rights issue. Esty advised candidates to instead embrace the issue.

“I would say that's no longer true, and we certainly saw that in Maggie Hassan’s race in New Hampshire in the Senate race. It became really part of the reason she won in that hotly contested race so I think it is less of a threat than it used to be,” she replied. “But you do have to know your district or your state, you do need to have allies and support locally and within your communities and be respectful and, again, remember who the real challenge is and, again, it's about leadership, not allowing us to have votes on bills, not bringing them up.”

Esty predicted that “comprehensive background checks” would pass in the House of Representatives.

“We know what would, but Paul Ryan won't call it up for a vote and that's what happens when you are in the minority, if you're in the minority, I cannot force that bill to be called even though I know it would pass. So again, elections matter,” she said.

“And for candidates to recognize there are a lot more Americans focused on this now and there's a lot more opportunity than there used to be and don't be afraid of it, like, do what the principal of Sandy Hook school did, Dawn Hochsprung, and do what first responders do, you run toward that, you don't run away from it. Run toward it, embrace what you really believe in. Be authentic about what you know to be a better path forward for America and don't run from it,” she added.

Esty recommended that Democratic candidates expand their knowledge of guns before speaking out about the issue.

“We have so much to do on defusing hate, disarming hate and defusing it with greater love, greater compassion, greater knowledge, but then that also includes knowledge of guns – and so if you're going to campaign in that space or be a candidate, you should be knowledgeable, too,” she said. “So that would be another recommendation: know it's magazines, not clips. Know your language, know your facts because otherwise you will be seen as somebody who doesn't know the issue and therefore isn't well-positioned to advocate effectively.”