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Democrats need to stay on offensive on guns

Learn from the heroic students.

Students, teacher and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas

Students, teacher and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, return to school on Wednesday.

Just days after the Parkland, Florida, shooting, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School put elected officials on the hot seat, demanding they answer for the lax gun laws that led to the slaughter of their classmates.

It was an amazing moment. There was real momentum for change.

Then the adults blew it.

When gun-rights supporters began their cynical strategy of moving the debate to non-issues like armed teachers and age restrictions, Democrats went from being dogs on the hunt to cats chasing laser pointers.

Instead of talking about an assault-weapons ban or universal background checks, they’ve spent most of their time explaining why there shouldn’t be guns in the classroom.

Democrats fell once again for the look-over-here tactic used by the enemies of sensible gun laws, immigration reform (“drug dealers, rapists”) and government health care (“death panels”) to get us off message.

Apparently, we still have not learned a lesson of modern politics: Never go on defense. Addressing crazy arguments or distractions like firearms training for teachers legitimizes bad ideas, puts them front and center, and crowds out our own message.

The failure to win debates has real costs. In the case of guns, it’s thousands of preventable deaths a year. Bigger picture, it also makes it difficult to change leadership in Congress and the White House when Democrats look weak and ineffective to voters.

So what should Democrats do? The only strategy is an offensive one. Here, again, we can learn from the brave survivors of the Parkland shooting.

When gun enthusiasts began ladling out their typical schlock about how a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun, the Parkland kids didn’t pause to explain how nonsensical it was. Instead, they addressed it as any other distraction. And then, without missing a beat, they continued to demand action.

There are signs Democrats are refocusing on guns. Calls for a vote in Congress on serious gun measures are multiplying. This time, Democrats should learn from the heroic students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas and summon their strength and courage to win the fight.

Evan Thies is a Democratic consultant.

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