It has been 38 days since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.; 174 days since the shooting at a concert in Las Vegas; 1,011 days since the killings at a church in Charleston, S.C.; and 1,926 since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Ten days ago, students organized a nationwide school walkout to demonstrate their outrage about these and other shootings.
On Saturday they plan to amass in Washington to pressure a Congress that has done nothing meaningful to protect American children in classrooms, movie theaters, churches, malls — because, thanks to the National Rifle Association, many of their elected representatives are too busy protecting their re-election.
My advice to the students? When you finish marching on the mall, march into the specific congressional districts where you can actually make a difference.
The midterm elections are in eight months. A vast majority of congressional districts have been gerrymandered bright blue or ruby red. In those deep-red districts, the only threat that far-right members of Congress face is a primary challenge from someone farther to the right. You may regard voting for universal background checks as a no-brainer, but they see it as a blemish on their N.R.A. rating — an open door to a primary challenge. That explains the unmovable fealty these representatives have to the gun lobby.
But in this election there are more than 40 truly competitive districts, including many where you can make a real difference by helping replace an incumbent who consistently supports the gun lobby with a challenger who won’t.
Go to the suburbs of Philadelphia, where Representative Ryan Costello (who has an A rating from the N.R.A.) is being challenged by several Democrats, including Chrissy Houlahan, a former Air Force captain who supports closing the loophole on sales at gun shows and renewing the federal assault weapons ban, among other steps. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s redrawing of the state’s district lines has transformed Mr. Costello’s already competitive district from one that was almost evenly split between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to one that supported Mrs. Clinton by 9 points.
March to the southern tip of Florida, not to vacation in flip-flops but to flip a district. There, Representative Carlos Curbelo (who has a B+ rating from the N.R.A. and an “N.R.A. lap dog” label from the Brady Campaign) is also being challenged by several Democrats, including Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, whose father was shot to death when she was 24.
Ms. Mucarsel-Powell supports banning the sale of military-style weapons like the AR-15 used in the Parkland shootings and would strengthen background checks so that domestic abusers, those affected by mental illness and terrorists can’t purchase guns. This district historically swings between Republicans and Democrats. You can push it the right way.
Too hot in Florida? Try the suburbs of Minneapolis-St. Paul, specifically the Second and Third Congressional Districts. Mr. Trump was virtually even with Mrs. Clinton in the Second and lost to her in the Third. Representative Jason Lewis supported concealed-carry reciprocity, and opposed universal background checks and any ban on semiautomatic weapons. His neighbor, Representative Erik Paulsen, shares the same position on concealed-carry reciprocity and universal background checks. Both have A ratings from the N.R.A.; both have opponents supporting sensible gun security laws.
You can canvass in the shadows of the Catskills in New York, in the suburbs of Denver and in Fairfax, Va. You can phone-bank in the competitive districts in Orange County, Calif., as well as the northern San Joaquin Valley, northern San Diego and eastern Los Angeles County. Ask your peers to show up at campaign events and town halls in the exurbs of Chicago and in Iowa.
If you live in a heavily Democratic district in a place like New York State, your member of Congress is already with you. Send a note of thanks and support that incumbent. The possibility of change is beyond the horizon, literally, in that morphing of suburbs, exurbs and rural areas, in that convergence of districts with incumbents whose support for the gun lobby is virulent, but who, in the November election, are vulnerable.
You don’t have to win every district. Replacing just a handful of incumbents in districts that are highly competitive while also offering a vivid contrast in positions on guns could bring the larger change you need and deserve.
Why? Because there’s nothing on Capitol Hill more clarifying than watching colleagues pay the ultimate political price for their positions. Seeing a colleague defeated because of a hard-core position tends to soften the resistance of those who survive.
March not left, nor right, but right up the middle, into those moderate competitive districts where high school students, people at the coffee shops and diners, and soccer moms and dads shake their heads at the intransigence of a member of Congress who won’t support enhanced background checks, “No Fly, No Buy” and other reforms.
You can stage marches and school walkouts, but then walk into the swing congressional districts that matter. In the end it’s not about standing up to be heard. It’s about changing who sits in Congress.