Ever since the tragic murder sprees this summer by lunatics with guns, first by a deranged individual in a dark Colorado theater and more recently by a white supremacist in a community-oriented Sikh mosque in Wisconsin, media personalities and other activists have renewed calls for more stringent gun control laws.
Ethical considerations aside, it doesn’t take a genius to know that there will be no further gun control legislation this year or next. In fact, as you may have noticed outside the media there is no one, no politician, no statesman, no organization, willing to talk about gun control. The reasons are purely political.
First, no major controversial legislation will ever get past Congress and a President’s desk in an election year. The issue, like abortion and capital punishment, is far too polarizing. Politicians would rather light their hair on fire than debate this right now. In an election season their job is to fudge the differences they may have with their constituents to garner their votes, than come out on one side or another on the issue of gun control.
In fact, in the last dozen years or so neither political party wants to discuss this issue. Republicans because of their close ties to the National Rifle Association (NRA), and Democrats because, well, frankly, gun control issues do not poll well. Those who support the Second Amendment’s “right to bear arms” Is not a black and white, republican versus democrat issue. While there are plenty of Americans who don’t own guns, and there are just as many or more who do and who side with either unfettered gun ownership or else fall back on the canard: “Let’s just start enforcing the gun laws we already have before legislating new one.”
In fact, those of us who remember the national gun control debate recall that it went on, and on, and on. And the resulting legislation was pretty unsatisfying to all. President Reagan and his press secretary, James Brady, were shot in March, 1981 by John Hinkley. In addition to almost killing the president, Mr. Brady was shot in the head and continues to suffer paralysis and a brain injury.
When an organization was formed in Mr. Brady’s name to reform handgun control, the GOP, his party and the party of President Reagan, went apoplectic. Any regulation on gun ownership was an affront to the 2nd Amendment, they said. Charlton Heston is famed for his quote while president of the N.R.A. during this time for saying: “They can have my gun when they pry it from my cold dead hands.”
This was a very divisive issue for Republicans who were split in their allegiances for their party and for Mr. Brady and this horrible crime. The in-house party fight soon spilled over onto the floor of Congress. The resulting legislation eventually became the “Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act of 1993”. Think of that – both men were shot in 1981 and this legislation finally passed twelve years later.
In the interim dozen years there was debate after debate. Bill after bill. Legislation was introduced and voted down. Presidents came and went. To say the public became fatigued of this subject would be an understatement.
Today, this subject matter fatigue continues among politicians and those of us who still recall the shouting, the divides, the blurring of party lines on the issue of gun control. In short, there is no appetite for a return of this issue in an election year or otherwise. And this is true for both politicians and the electorate. That is why this issue polls poorly for Democrats. Right or wrong, constituents believe further gun control laws would be ineffective to stem the tide of violence , or that those who vote will be offended by further legislation, or they continue to be exhausted by the subject.
Furthermore, these two most recent examples of murderous cowards in Colorado and Wisconsin are not good anecdotal examples of “maniacs”, or known dangerous felons who were known to be “insane” who bought guns and had known accomplices. This isn’t a case where the laws failed the system.
Both of these murderers weren’t felons. They hadn’t been adjudicated insane. They weren’t just released from prison. They didn’t have a violent background. Their personality disorders were hardly anything (that we currently know of) that should have tipped off police or federal officials that they were capable of anything like this. The application of current laws would not and did not have any effect to prevent this. Mindreading may have worked but good mindreaders are in short supply.
John Hinkley, however, had a criminal background. He was known to be an unstable individual. He was eventually adjudicated insane and still resides in an institution rather than a prison. Presumably had the Brady Handgun Bill been in existence, it could have prevented his easy access to a handgun.
However, the focus shouldn’t be on these two damaged individuals. It should be on the availability of assault weapons.
The debate in the 1980s and early 1990s was about handguns. Currently, handgun regulation isn’t even on the table; the concerns have turned to easy access to automatic, multi-round assault weapons essentially meant for military purposes that has killed dozens of civilians in a crowded movie theater in minutes. While what is at stake seems to be widening – the wiping out of Americans at record pace – the stakes to the NRA and millions of Americans are the same. Guns equal freedom. Period.
If you’re wondering what must happen for a thoughtful, considerate and deliberate discussion on how to prevent innocent Americans from getting slaughtered in record time, well, I am too. No one wants to touch the rights of civilians to own hand-guns for self-protection or rifles for recreational and hunting purposes, but does anyone believe an assault weapon is a necessary tool for self-protection or hunting?