"... It will be difficult for gun control proponents to keep momentum up for very long...." - Doug Mataconis, January 15, 2013
"You would not expect radical action on guns to go through the House of Representatives." - Ezra Klein, January 10, 2013
"Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but not to his or her own facts. Saying that this is all a matter of psychology is a recipe for doing nothing." -Fareed Zakaria, July 27, 2012
Newtown. Aurora. Virginia Tech. Columbine.
Contemporarily, these towns and schools are rightly and unquestionably equated with gun massacres. Each suffered violent, unexpected attacks from gunmen. Each lost sons and daughters, many mere children, to unexplainable savagery.
Yet for the longest time, public support for gun control was too low to foster any meaningful action, hitting a record nadir of 26% as late as October 2011 (here is a nice historical overview of gun perceptions from Gallup), and public opinion on making existing gun laws stricter has trended downward, except for a spike during "the summer of the gun."
The politics of gun control, meanwhile, are historically too intractable — the National Rifle Association (NRA) maintains its stranglehold on Republicans nationwide — to encourage interested lawmakers. It was a series of disturbing massacres — namely the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 children and educators dead — that galvanized widespread interest in not only debating but enacting comprehensive gun legislation. For an ephemeral moment, members of both parties were prepared to make the first legitimate progress on this evasive, divisive issue in almost 20 years.
Then nothing happened.
And nothing continues to happen.
Months after Newtown — the second deadliest shooting in U.S. history — inaction in Washington has apparently deflated what was generally high support for tougher gun laws. Legislating requires recognizing opportunity and seizing it whensoever it emerges, but this unique and transitory opportunity is rapidly fading. The usual pro-gun suspects are wasting time debating imagined contributing factors like violent video games, which have never been conclusively linked to actual violence, and perpetuating a distracting conversation on mental illness, which "overwhelming epidemiological evidence" shows is associated with only 4% of total violence in the U.S. Somewhere during the political brouhaha the focus on the main culprit, guns themselves, was lost.
A vote is expected, albeit on a toothless stripped-down version which itself has scant chance of passing, especially if token Republican fearmongers Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) follow through on their threats to filibuster.
This is shameful in many respects. Aside from tarnishing the memories of the departed, our elected leaders are forsaking the distinctive chance to pass significant gun legislation to combat the myriad gun-related maladies plaguing our nation. Consider the following:
- According to several Harvard studies, areas with higher gun ownership suffer from higher rates of gun violence;
- Weak gun laws are strongly linked to a high likelihood of violence against women;
- Even as it's becoming increasingly clear that more guns equal more shootings, many states continue to curtail existing gun laws;
- Offensive gun use far outpaces defensive use;
- The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime indicates that the United States suffers from more gun violence than other developed countries; and
- Over 3,000 persons have been killed with guns since Newtown.
Orthodox Second Amendment aficionados presumably balk at the simplest mention of gun control, abominable under their zeitgeist. But contrary to conspiratorial and misleading narratives propagated by conservative media, evidence shows that gun control has positive effects when enacted. A report to the National Institute of Justice indicates that the federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which banned assault weapons, had a moderate effect on gun crimes during its 10-year existence.
There's other evidence suggesting gun control largely fulfills its fundamental policy goals. An exhaustive 2012 firearm study in The Atlantic reveals that states with tougher gun laws experience fewer gun homicides. Its language, striking both stylistically and substantively, merits direct contemplation:
"The importance of gun control cannot be minimized. The state level is the appropriate level to examine this. And our previous state level analysis found gun deaths to be significantly lower in states with stricter gun control laws. We found substantial negative correlations between the rate of gun deaths and states that ban assault weapons, require trigger locks, and mandate safe storage requirements for guns."
In a related example, Australia's full gun ban — in contrast to the feeble 1994 U.S. ban, which had over 600 exceptions and loopholes — resulted in a 59% decrease in gun-related homicides over the next ten years. Enacted after the worst Australian gun massacre of all time, the move is widely considered a success.
But what about Chicago, supposedly the poster child for failed gun control policies? Until 2010, Chicago enforced a municipal handgun ban that was allegedly unable to prevent excessive bloodshed. Indeed, critics may point to a 39% spike in gang violence as evidence that more guns, not fewer, are needed to stem neighborhood violence. But recent findings show that a sizable portion of the guns on Chicago streets originate beyond city and even state limits in such places as Fort Wayne, Ind. — a veritable arms bazaar for road-tripping thugs, suggesting that it's not supposed Illinois gun control inefficacy but rather unmolested interstate gun trafficking that is really to blame for rampant Chicago gun violence.
All things considered, passing commonsense gun control legislation that may even tangentially curb our nation's gun problems should be a no-brainer, especially when traditionally pro-gun writers, media figures, and NRA members are supporting at least modest changes. NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre even supported universal background checks in 1999, though he has since flipped.
State action in New York, Colorado, and soon Connecticut is encouraging, but the momentousness of recent tragedies demands federal action. As more time passes, the once-inspiring maneuvers look increasingly like a phony dance.