9 People Who Changed Their Minds On Gun Control After Horrific Mass Shootings
In the United States, the past couple of years have been rife with multiple mass shootings and extensive gun violence, with the attack on Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, California being the latest. In response to the violence, people around the nation are taking a stand and demanding increased gun control. Following suit, there's been a handful of people who changed their minds on gun control after fiercely promoting second amendment rights.
While the most recent gun control movement has not yet resulted in many policy changes due to political and special interest issues, it is nonetheless insightful to reflect on when and how people have flip-flopped on the issue. Looking back on moments of change allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the gun control issue and how public figures contextualize it.
It often takes an act of mass violence to push public figures to change their minds about guns. As a result, nearly every individual on the list below altered their stance on gun control following a mass shooting event in the United States. While the breadth and depth of change certainly differs quite a bit from individual to individual, this list demonstrates that, while still rare, public figures do change their minds when it comes to gun control and safety in America.
The Democratic senator from Virginia, who once had an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA), changed his tune on gun control following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.
At the time, Warner said in an interview with a CNN affiliate in Virginia,
I believe every American has Second Amendment rights. The ability to hunt is part of our culture. I have an NRA rating of an 'A,' but enough is enough ... I join with the president and reasonable folks in both parties and the overwhelming majority of Americans who are gun owners who believe that we've got to put stricter rules on the books.
More recently, following the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, Warner called for a ban on automatic weapons, saying to CBS' Face the Nation on March 25, "... the basic notion of these weaponized, militarized weapons need to be off our streets."
Following the shooting at 2017's Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, Caleb Keeter, a guitarist for the Josh Abbott band, announced on Twitter that he had completely changed his mind about gun control. Keeter's band had played at the festival and Keeter admitted that he regretted that he was only coming around to supporting gun control legislation after experiencing a mass shooting firsthand.
As Keeter described on Twitter on Oct. 2, 2017:
I've been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was ... We need gun control RIGHT NOW. My biggest regret is that I stubbornly didn't realize it until my brothers on the road and myself were threatened by it ...
The Sandy Hook shooting also prompted Joe Manchin, the Democratic Senator from West Virginia, to change his mind about aspects of gun control legislation. Manchin was endorsed by the NRA during his first two Senate campaigns. Following the Newton shooting, however, Manchin became highly committed to advancing gun control legislation, telling CNN in December 2012, "I'm committed to bringing the dialogue that would bring a total change, and I mean a total change."
In February of this year, Manchin co-sponsored an amendment to strengthen background checks for gun owners. However, the amendment ultimately failed to pass the Senate. As NBC News reported, because of Manchin's gun control advocacy, the NRA is now actively supporting his opponent, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, in the upcoming general elections. While Manchin has released campaign ads asserting that he still does support protecting the Second Amendment, the NRA is adamantly opposed to his candidacy.
Scarborough, a former congressman and current host of Morning Joe on MSNBC, received "A" ratings from the NRA as a congressman and was always a proponent of gun rights. However, following the Sandy Hook shooting, Scarborough delivered an emotional monologue on his show revealing his newfound support for gun control. As the TV host put it:
From this day forward, nothing can ever be the same again. We've said this before after Columbine, after Arizona, after Aurora, after so many other numbing hours of murder and massacre. But let this be our true landmark: Let Newtown be the hour after which, in the words of the New Testament, we did all we could do to make all things new. Politicians can no longer be allowed to defend the status quo. They must instead be forced to defend our children ...
Ohio's Republican governor, John Kasich, seemingly developed a newfound stance on gun control following the Las Vegas shooting in October 2017. As News 5 Cleveland, an ABC affiliate, reported, after the Vegas shooting, Kasich formed a committee composed of diverse leaders to develop gun reform legislation. The committee subsequently developed six different gun control proposals, which are now before the Ohio state legislature. In August, Kasich called on legislators to send him gun control legislation to sign, expressing frustration with the slow progress being made on the issue.
Kasich's flip on gun control has surprised and seemingly outraged some pro-gun advocacy groups. Indeed, during a hearing in May for a proposed Ohio law that would allow seizure of guns from individuals who are deemed a threat to themselves or others, the director of Ohio Gun Owners, Chris Dorr, condemned Kasich. As the Columbus Dispatch reported, Dorr called the governor a "radical gun control militant."
When discussing the impetus behind his newly developed commitment to gun control after previously espousing his strong support for the Second Amendment, Kasich reflected on the recent spate of mass shootings (as reported by News 5 Cleveland):
Nobody could see what's happened here within the last six months and not have their eyes opened to this whole thing ... We don't want to be in the business of taking people's guns but there are reasonable limits ...
First-time Florida Congressman Brian Mast strongly advocated for Second Amendment rights during his 2016 congressional campaign. During a campaign ad, he once even said that mass shootings "could have been prevented were there people present who were prepared to defend themselves.”
However, Mast readily changed his mind following the myriad mass shootings in 2017 and 2018, writing a February 2018 New York Times op-ed indicating his support for a ban on assault weapons, a ban on bump stocks, and strong background checks for all types of gun purchases. In his op-ed, Mast discussed his revised view of the Second Amendment, writing:
The Second Amendment is unimpeachable. It guarantees the right of citizens to defend themselves. I accept, however, that it does not guarantee that every civilian can bear any and all arms.
Schenck is a nationally-known conservative evangelical minister. Following the 2013 Navy Yard shooting in Washington, D.C., he began questioning his own commitment to advocating for gun rights — rights to which his highly conservative Christian base is highly committed. Schenck eventually decided that he could not reconcile his pro-life stance with his pro-gun stance and decided to advocate for gun control. A 2015 documentary, The Armor of Light, explores Schenck's evolution on the issue of guns and his attempts to push his conservative supporters to view guns differently.
The former Democratic senator and Senate Majority Leader was once an NRA-endorsed proponent of gun rights. However, following the Sandy Hook shooting, Reid gave a speech calling for a legislative debate on how to most effectively change gun laws. He also subsequently introduced gun control legislation and publicly decried the NRA in 2016, saying that the gun rights organization only cares about "making money for gun manufacturers and making money for the NRA."
Scott, Vermont's Republican governor, has historically been strongly in favor of gun rights, perviously receiving an "A" rating from the NRA. However, shortly after the Parkland shooting, a planned school shooting in Vermont was thwarted by law enforcement officials. As the Washington Post reported, for Scott, hearing about the planned attack on Vermont's Fair Haven Union High School completely changed his mind about gun control.
At a press conference in April announcing new gun control legislation, Scott reflected on his change of heart, saying:
As I processed this information [about the planned shooting], I was shocked ... Just 24 hours before — even in the aftermath of Parkland — I thought, as the safest state in the nation, Vermont was immune to this type of violence. … Sitting there, I realized, only by the grace of God did we avert a horrific outcome ... I was wrong [about Vermont being immune] ...
I support the Second Amendment, but I had to ask myself, ‘Are we truly doing everything we can to make our kids and communities safer?’ Because if we’re at a point where our kids are afraid to go to school, and parents are afraid to put them on a bus, or police don’t have the tools they need to protect victims of violence, or families can’t step in to prevent a loved one from taking their own life — then who are we?
During that press conference, Scott signed a package of gun control bills that expanded background checks, banned bump stocks, put restrictions on magazine capacity, mandated hunter safety courses for any gun owner under 21, and allowed authorities to take guns away from people who are considered at risk for engaging in violence. As he signed the bills, Scott noted that he understood there may be political ramifications for his shift on gun control. As the governor said, "I understand I may lose support over the decision to sign these bills today, but those are consequences I am prepared to live with."
Overall, it took a variety of mass shooting events to inspire many people to change their minds about gun control. It will be telling to see whether or not these public figures continue to further evolve their stance on gun control or if they maintain their current commitments, particularly as elections draw near.