The Failure of “Bipartisan” Gun Control

Ladd Everitt
7 min readMay 29, 2019

Generally speaking, bipartisanship in American politics is admirable. Our constitutional democracy is geared to breed compromises that reflect the diverse views of the American people. In an era of radical GOP politics, however, efforts at bipartisanship can be futile and sometimes even impede progress.

Nowhere is that truer than in the gun control movement. Here are two examples from the state and federal level…

1) Disappearing Gains in the Sunshine State

On February 14, 2018, a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School took the lives of 17 students and faculty, injuring 17 others. This horrific tragedy led to the creation of March For Our Lives, an inspired group of student-survivors from the school who quickly changed the national debate on guns with their unapologetic, clear-eyed approach.

Following weeks of intense lobbying and advocacy by MFOL and other students from across Florida, a Republican government (House, Senate and governor Rick Scott) enacted the state’s first gun control bill in more than two decades despite the opposition of the NRA. The bill, SB 7026, raised the age to purchase a long gun (rifle or shotgun) from 18 to 21; instituted a three-day waiting period for most gun purchases; banned the sale or possession of “bump stocks” — accessories which allow semiautomatic rifles to simulate the fully automatic fire of a machine gun; and established a “Risk Protection Order” policy allowing law enforcement to petition circuit courts to have firearms temporarily removed from individuals in crisis (because of substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence, etc.).

Florida Republicans like Rick Scott (center) and Bill Galvano (far right) didn’t support gun control in March 2018 because they wanted to. They did so under fierce pressure from the student-survivors of Parkland.

Republican Senate president Bill Galvano had shepherded SB 7026 to passage in his chamber by a tight vote of 20–18, but sounded less than thrilled when the bill became law. The legislature had “gotten somewhere” in terms of making schools safer, Galvano grudgingly admitted. “We will keep giving it our best,” he added, but made no assurances that additional, desperately needed gun control reforms would be forthcoming.

Galvano and the Republicans did manage to throw the NRA a small (but important) bone in SB 7026, despite their outright opposition. SB 7026 established a “Guardian” program to allow non-teacher personnel to carry concealed handguns on K-12 school campuses. Florida’s 67 counties were given the choice of allowing school staff to participate in the program or opting out altogether. Most opted out.

The student-survivors of March For Our Lives had a great deal to be proud of. No individual/group in memory had moved a 100% Republican government to enact gun control reform. But would MFOL’s advocacy “stick”?

The answer came less than two weeks later on March 20, 2018. Governor Scott, outgoing Senate president Joe Negron, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran appointed a slew of pro-gun advocates to a newly-created “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.” The commission was asked to “analyze information from the [Parkland] school shooting and other mass violence incidents in [Florida] and address recommendations and system improvements.”

The commission’s chair — radical right-wing Pinellas County sheriff Bob Gualtieri — appeared on NRA-TV with spokesperson Dana Loesch to support the policy of arming teachers. He also gave her non-public information about the Parkland shooting. In December 2018, Gualtieri succeeded in pushing a recommendation to arm teachers through the commission at the last minute. The Florida GOP was clearly setting the table for a return to regressive gun policy.

Thousands attended this gun control rally/lobbying day at the Florida state capitol organized by the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence on February 21, 2018.

Despite this, the largest gun control group (by budget), Mike Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety, gave $500,000 to a political action committee led by Republican Bill Galvano in September and November of 2018. [Half-a-mil is an enormous donation for a state political campaign.] Everytown explained their contributions to the Florida senate president thusly: “[Sen. Galvano] worked tirelessly to get his colleagues to support the gun safety package passed after the Parkland tragedy.”

The folly of the strategy was revealed just five months later when Everytown was forced to spend $200,000 in newspaper and digital ads countering Galvano after he threatened to hold a vote on legislation to arm teachers! Throwing good money after bad didn’t work. On April 23, Galvano pushed SB 7030 through the Senate by a (near) party-line vote of 22–17. The bill added teachers to the list of school personnel who could carry concealed handguns in K-12 schools under the Guardian program. [This time, Galvano didn’t include any gun control provisions in the legislation.] The bill was signed into law by Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on May 8. Counties were still given the choice of opting out of the program.

SB 7030’s enactment marked a dramatic reversal of fortune for MFOL, Everytown and other gun control groups — who just one year ago celebrated a big win in the Sunshine State. MFOL student-survivors, exhausted physically and emotionally after their national bus tour in late 2018, did not show up in Tallahassee for the 2019 legislative session in the numbers they had previously. Into this void stepped Independent Mike Bloomberg.

Why did Everytown give Galvano so much money — and thereby contribute materially to the NRA’s campaign to arm teachers? Did Bloomberg think moderation is what moved gun control legislation in Florida for the first time in 20 years? Earth to Everytown: It was the intensity, courage, and raw honesty of MFOL leaders and other Florida students that got SB 7026 done. They inspired the people of their state and country and forced Republicans to act. That’s just as good as getting Republicans’ hearts — if they have any.

2) The Manchin-Toomey Loop

In 2016, Everytown and Americans for Responsible Solutions (now known simply as Giffords) endorsed Republican Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey for re-election over Democratic challenger Katie McGinty. They did this despite the fact that McGinty embraced a whole host of gun control reforms that Toomey did not, and during an election in which Democrats needed to pick up just five seats to take back control of the U.S. Senate.

Everytown and Giffords explained they were rewarding Toomey for his co-sponsorship of the “Manchin-Toomey Amendment,” a deeply flawed vehicle to expand background checks on gun buyers that was infamously voted down by the Senate after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14, 2012.

When Democrat Katie McGinty challenged incumbent Republican Senator Pat Toomey in 2016, she received the highest possible grade (100%) on state GVP group Ceasefire PA’s candidate survey.

Toomey’s 2013 amendment with Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia was modest in scope. It mandated background checks be conducted on buyers in private gun transactions that are commercially advertised by sellers (at gun shows, through classified ads in newspapers, over the Internet, etc.). Other private sales of firearms (those made impromptu in a parking lot, say) were exempted from regulation. Worse, the Manchin-Toomey Amendment was loaded with provisions drafted by the gun lobby that would have weakened longstanding federal gun laws in critical ways.

The Democrats fell short of taking the U.S. Senate back in the 2016 election and Toomey bucked a trend of significant Democratic gains in Pennsylvania. Presumably, Everytown and Giffords endorsed the Republican senator in hopes he would resume his push to expand background checks (and bring his Republican colleagues along). Those hopes haven’t materialized. Since Toomey beat McGinty by just one and a half percentage points on Election Day 2016 (November 8), he has done next to nothing on gun control.

There was anticipation that Toomey and Manchin would re-introduce their background checks legislation during the 116th Congress. Bu when House Democrats passed the (tainted) “Bipartisan Background Checks Act” (H.R. 8) in February (with the support of just four Republicans, original co-sponsors who failed to show up at the presser announcing the bill with Gabby Giffords), the consensus companion bill in the Senate became S. 42. Unlike the Manchin-Toomey amendment, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy’s S. 42 is a universal background checks bill that would apply to all private gun transactions (save those between immediate family members). Toomey and Manchin are apparently unwilling to upgrade their bill or even remove gun lobby language from it.

Instead, Senator Toomey has introduced a bill to require the FBI to notify state law enforcement when gun buyers lie on ATF Form 4473 about their criminal and/or mental health history. This narrow reform has been disingenuously promoted by the NRA as the solution to all gun violence in America. The NRA understands that state law enforcement has no constitutional jurisdiction to investigate/prosecute federal crimes, and they have no intention of delegating any funding/authority to the agency actually charged with enforcing America’s federal gun laws — the ATF.


The “bipartisan” strategy of the Bigs (gun control groups with annual budgets over $1 million) fails to recognize the total radicalization of Trump’s GOP. Today, it is hard to find any Republicans — at the state or federal level — who support even modest gun control policies. They simply don’t exist anymore. Everytown’s and Giffords’ naive funding of pro-gun Republicans (and pro-gun Democrats like Manchin) is curbing the incredible grassroots energy built up by Parkland’s student-led movement. In the 2018 midterm elections, significantly more gun policy voters were gun control supporters than pro-gun advocates!

If congressional Republicans refuse to pass even the most narrow of gun control measures, then why not introduce strong ones like national licensing and registration that would significantly lower America’s gun death rate? Throw some red meat to a gun control base that never gets any (while the pro-gun grassroots feeds like Jaws).

It’s time for groups like Everytown and Giffords to start thinking big about ways to end America’s epidemic of gun violence, like the young people in March For Our Live have. Shootings are feared by families coast to coast. With strong leadership, we can deny guns to violent people and start saving all the precious lives being taken from us.



Ladd Everitt

Ladd Everitt is a comms pro & gun control expert who’s worked for Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, George Takei's One Pulse for America, and Million Mom March.