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U.S. Congressman Mark Pocan said congressional Democrats, following a mass shooting at a Florida high school, mustn’t flinch in giving full-throated support for gun-control measures such as universal background checks and banning so-called “assault weapons.”

Pocan, D-Black Earth, cited the activism of high school students as the factor that could influence the gun debate in a way that hasn’t happened after previous mass shootings.

After last month’s shooting killed 17 at a high school near Miami, some students there and at other high schools have become outspoken advocates for gun control.

A demonstration is scheduled for March 24 in Washington, D.C., and similar events are expected across the country, including in Madison and elsewhere in Wisconsin. A national school walk-out is scheduled for March 14.

Pocan, speaking to reporters at his Madison office Friday, said congressional Democrats should take their cues from the students.

“We have to be as brave as high school students across the country,” Pocan said.

Pocan said he wants the Republican-controlled Congress to take up universal background checks and banning so-called “bump stocks” and “assault weapons.”

He and other congressional Democrats have signed a petition that, if signed by a majority of the Congress, would force a vote on background checks. Pocan acknowledged that measure is unlikely to advance since it would require congressional Republicans to buck their leadership.

After a mass shooting in Las Vegas in October, the campaign arm of congressional Democrats urged candidates not to “politicize” that shooting by discussing, in its immediate aftermath, gun policy.

Pocan said congressional Democrats must push hard for gun policy changes but need not abandon their other priorities, such as economic issues, while doing so.

He cited both the student activism and recent steps by U.S. corporations as signs the tide of public opinion is turning on guns. Large retailers Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods announced they’ll stop selling certain “assault”-style rifles and won’t sell any guns to anyone under age 21. And airlines Delta and United said they no longer will offer discounted rates to NRA members.

“Right now, it really does feel different,” Pocan said. “This is a moment that if we don’t take advantage of, we’d be remiss in doing our jobs.”


Mark Sommerhauser covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.