Hours after a shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, California, that left at least 12 people dead, Senator-elect Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) went on Fox News and gave host Sandra Smith a stunning answer to a softball question about how we can prevent these tragedies.
“What can we do?” Smith asked. “This was the deadliest shooting that we’ve seen in this country since Parkland. I mean, what do we do?”
Before she even got around to offering thoughts and prayers, Blackburn, who currently serves as a member of Congress, immediately started talking about the need to protect gun rights.
“What we do is say, how do we make certain that we protect the Second Amendment and protect our citizens?” Blackburn said. “We’ve always done that in this country. Mental health issues need to be addressed.”
Sen Marsha Blackburn on Thousand Oaks: “What we do is say how do we make certain that we protect the Second Amendment."— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) November 8, 2018
The @NRA contributed more than $1 million to Blackburn’s winning campaign.pic.twitter.com/B6nJ7BAtfk
Given that facts about the shooting had barely started trickling out at the time of the interview, Blackburn’s answer was extreme, even for Fox News and a newly elected Southern senator. It was also strikingly at odds with Tuesday’s midterm elections.
As Vox detailed, “the one statewide ballot initiative regarding guns, which strengthened Washington state’s gun laws by curtailing access to assault rifles, won,” and according to Trace, “Democrats earning F ratings from the NRA for their views on gun laws prevailed not only in increasingly bluish swing states such as Virginia, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Colorado, but also in conservative strongholds like South Carolina and Kansas.”
Blackburn’s commitment to gun rights, despite national trends, is a good example of how the Senate is insulated from national opinion. Republicans control the Senate, even though they received far fewer votes overall than Democratic senators. Population distribution gives conservative voters, like the ones who comprise Blackburn’s base in Tennessee, outsize influence.
In Tennessee, Blackburn’s endorsement from the NRA mattered. According to Trace, the National Rifle Association spent $1.25 million to help her get elected on Tuesday (including running ads against her opponent). That total was the second most the NRA spent on any race this cycle, trailing only what they spent on Senator-elect Josh Hawley (MO) in his successful campaign to defeat incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill.
A million dollars is a lot of money in a state like Tennessee. But even more important, NRA money comes with voter support. The NRA can mobilize supporters for or against a candidate, making a good relationship with the group valuable for lawmakers like Blackburn and Hawley.
Overall, however, the NRA lay relatively low this campaign season. After spending more than $20 million during both the 2014 and 2016 cycles, the NRA spent less than $10 million this cycle — one when the group was targeted by a viral gun control campaign waged by survivors of the Parkland school shooting.
In the immediate aftermath of the most deadly mass shooting since Parkland, Blackburn echoed one of the NRA’s key talking points — that gun violence is best prevented by addressing “mental health issues.” But other countries with similar rates of mental health problems don’t come close to America’s level of gun violence. The difference, as Vox’s German Lopez explained, isn’t that Americans are psychologically damaged by violent video games or experience mental health crises that people in other countries do not, but easy access to guns.
The suspect believed to be responsible for the Thousand Oaks shooting, a 28-year-old US Marine Corps veteran named Ian David Long, legally obtained the gun he used to kill 12 people and then himself, according to Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean.
During a news conference on Thursday, Dean said Long used a Glock 21 .45-caliber handgun with an extended magazine to take at least 12 lives. Dean added that Long had a documented history of mental illness, including an incident in April in which police were called to Long’s house while he was “irate” and “acting irrationally,” but a mental health specialist determined he didn’t meet the criteria for incarceration.
The NRA, citing that incident, quickly tried to pin blame on the shooting on police — ignoring the fact that despite the April incident and other run-ins with law enforcement, Long was in legal possession of his firearm.