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Movie theater massacre will spur debate over, but little change in, gun laws

By JOHN WHITESIDES and DAVID INGRAM
July 21, 2012

Police use a video camera to look inside an apartment where the suspect in a shooting at a movie theatre lived in Aurora, Colo., Friday.
(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is a member of a coalition called Mayors Against Illegal Guns, but when he issued a statement expressing shock and horror on Friday after a mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater, he had nothing to say about gun control.

Neither did President Barack Obama nor his Republican rival Mitt Romney, though both canceled campaign speeches on Friday and expressed sorrow for the victims of the shooting rampage.

The killing of 12 people at a midnight screening of the new Batman movie in the Denver suburb of Aurora may spark a fresh round of soul-searching on America’s relationship with guns but few predict any real change in the law.

That’s because gun control advocates have largely lost the argument against the much more powerful gun lobby, and politicians know the issue is toxic with voters.

One of the few politicians who has long taken a stand is New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire backer of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of mayors advocating for stricter rules on gun sales and ownership.

Speaking on WOR Radio on Friday, Bloomberg called on Obama and Romney to tell the public what they would do to reduce gun violence.

“Soothing words are nice, but maybe it’s time that the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they are going to do about it,” he said.

“I don’t think there’s any other developed country in the world that has remotely the problem we have,” Bloomberg said. “We have more guns than people in this country.”

Most Americans, however, do not believe that tougher gun laws would be the solution. Gallup polls over the last two decades show the percentage of Americans who favor making gun control laws “more strict” fell from 78 percent in 1990 to 44 percent in 2010.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the largest and oldest of America’s gun-control groups, is a fraction of its peak size. The center and an affiliated political arm had revenue of $5.9 million in 2010, the most recent year for which information is publicly available – down 27 percent in three years.

In the same year, the powerful pro-gun lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA), and its various components took in $253 million from individuals, gun makers and sellers and other supporters.

Even Democratic supporters of efforts to keep a tighter rein on weapons were relatively mum after the shooting.

Democrats in conservative and rural states fear alienating gun owners and the NRA, and crucial presidential battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia, Iowa and North Carolina have large populations of enthusiastic gun owners.

“We’re in the summer before a presidential election and I really don’t foresee any serious discussion of gun control,” said Kristin Goss of Duke University, the author of “Disarmed: The Missing Movement for Gun Control in America.”

Some supporters of Democrat Al Gore still believe his support for gun control laws played a role in his loss of the 2000 presidential election, and “memories of lost elections loom large for politicians,” Goss said.

Evan Bayh, a former Democratic senator from the conservative state of Indiana, described the dilemma facing Democrats who favor gun control and live in Republican-leaning states.

“You have a lot of people who feel passionately about that issue. … So, many members of Congress are faced with the decision: Do they sacrifice all the other good they hope to accomplish for this one issue? And do they sacrifice their own careers for this one issue?”

Congress has not approved any major new gun laws since 1994, and a ban on certain semiautomatic rifles expired in 2004. Some states have loosened gun laws to allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons or adopted “Stand Your Ground” self-defense laws.

A Reuters-Ipsos poll in April found most Americans supported the right to use deadly force to protect themselves, and two of every three respondents had a favorable view of the NRA, which marshals thousands of activists to oppose even small-scale gun regulations and punish lawmakers who challenge them.

‘STRONG FORCES’

“There are strong forces in American politics, led by the National Rifle Association, that have prevented any real changes in gun control laws in years,” said Cal Jillson, a political analyst at Southern Methodist University in Texas.

“In the short term, this incident will give some liberal Democrats an opportunity to talk about gun control in an environment where people are listening, but in the long term it doesn’t change anything,” he said.

Other high-profile gun-related mass shootings in recent years – the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007 and the shooting of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and others in Arizona in January 2011 – also sparked some short-term debate but little action.

Opponents of stricter gun control point to events such as last year’s killing of 77 people in Norway, which like the rest of Europe has much tighter controls on guns than the United States, as evidence that gun laws don’t stop such tragedies.

The NRA said in a statement: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and the community. NRA will not have any further comment until all the facts are known.”

Mayor Hancock of Denver, a Democrat, issued a statement saying it was a tragic day and pledging support for those affected by this “senseless, senseless” act. “Our hearts are broken but we are determined to move forward together,” he said.

Obama, who supported the lapsed assault weapons ban during the 2008 campaign, has made no effort as president to curb gun rights and has rarely discussed the issue.

Many gun enthusiasts still distrust him, however, and the NRA uses the specter of a potential second term for Obama – when he would be unrestrained by the demands of re-election – to raise money and keep its conservative base on edge.

The NRA spent at least $40 million in 2008 to try to defeat Obama, who famously told the audience at a California fund raiser in April 2008 that it was not surprising that small town and rural residents in states like Pennsylvania “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”

Romney, a former governor in liberal Massachusetts, has courted the NRA and its followers in recent years with promises to support their rights but has offered few details and earned little enthusiasm.

He got a tepid response at the NRA convention in April, when fewer than 200 of his 2,600-word speech was devoted to gun rights or gun issues.

Some gun enthusiasts remember Romney’s 2007 quote during his first run for president that he was “not a big-game hunter, I’ve always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will.”

Jim Kessler, former policy director for Americans for Gun Safety, said guns owners far outnumber victims of gun crime, so the odds are stacked against gun control advocates. Some 32 percent of households owned a gun in 2010.

Moreover, it often isn’t immediately apparent what gun laws would have made a difference in specific cases.

“When there’s a crime such as this, it often takes a few days of police work to figure out if a gun loophole has been evaded to cause the crime or if there has been a hole in the gun laws to allow someone to get the guns,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Emily Flitter, Jeff Mason, Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Claudia Parsons and Jim Loney)

Copyright © 2012 Thomson Reuters

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10 Responses to Movie theater massacre will spur debate over, but little change in, gun laws

  1. Almandine

    July 21, 2012 at 9:57 am

    50 Million law-abiding gun owners killed absolutely no one on Friday.

  2. Bill Cravener

    July 21, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    Oh good, that makes it ok then. But besides the July 19, Aurora killings;

    On. . .

    July 17, Tusaloosa, Ala: Gunman shoots into a bar, injuring 17.

    May 30, Seattle, Wash: Gunman shoots into cafe and later carjacks a woman, killing five and injuring one others.

    April 7, Tulsa, Okla: Two gunmen accused of shooting passersby in a north Tulsa neighborhood, killing three and injuring two others.

    April 2, Oakland, Calif: Gunman opens fire on classroom at Oikos University, killing seven and injuring three others.

    March 3, Pittsburgh, Pa.: A gunman opens fire on a psychiatric hospital in Pittsburgh, killing one person and injuring seven more.

    February 27, Chardon, Ohio: Teenager shoots into high school cafeteria, killing three and injuring three others.

    That’s just so far this year (2012). And I’m certain there were others we just are not aware of. But hey, 50 million law-abiding gun owners killed absolutely no one on Friday.

  3. Kenneth Koehn

    July 21, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    The NRA has won the debate and gun control laws will get weaker and weaker over time. It’s tragic for our country but the game is over and gun control advocates have lost. Sad but true from my perspective. Now college students can carry guns on campus in Texas and some other states. We reap what we sow.

  4. Sandy Price

    July 21, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Thank you Bill Cravener. I look at the faces of the Mothers; some of whom lost a child and some did not. All grieve. Those who worship weapons more than have respect for human life are all guilty.

    • Bill Cravener

      July 22, 2012 at 7:09 am

      Sandy, we have become so gun loving and numbed by home grown violence that more Americans have become casualties of domestic shootings than have died in all our wars combined. We are reverting back to the Old West frame of mind where everyone carries a gun. How sad if it comes to that, we the supposed civilized nation called the United States of American.

      More often then not after one of these deadly events occur there are those who say we need more guns not less. Or the nonsense that “If I had only been there with my gun I’d have killed the sonofabitch”. The problem with this mindset is the public is being asked to arm everyone and trust that one of us will quickly dispatch the bad man in a modern day “Shootout at the OK Corral” with bullets flying in all directions.

      Yes indeed, that would make me feel safer, not!!

      I’ve been a gun owner and avid hunter since the age of twelve yet I see the true reality in all of this; what the NRA has become is the enabler of death. They are a paranoid delusional bunch and as venomous as a deadly snake. With consent from our politicians the NRA has turned our Second Amendment into a deadly hoax.

      Remember Adam Gadahn? He’s the American born al Qaeda member who urged terrorists to carry out attacks on the U.S. He states on an online video; “America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check, and most likely, without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”

      • woody188

        July 26, 2012 at 9:16 am

        You mean Adam Pearlman, the spokesperson for al-CIAda? Are you really that brainwashed or are you being paid?

  5. Keith

    July 21, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Ken, you are correct, the battle is over.

    The 50 Million who now have guns won’t give them up. Indeed, they need now “protect” themselves from people like the “nut case” in Colorado.

    I’m very glad I live in Canada, where such weapons are outlawed. At least here, I know that when I walk down the street (or go to a movie) the chance that I (or a member of my family) will be shot as an innocent bystander are virtually nil.

  6. Almandine

    July 22, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    What we have witnessed is a great Human tragedy, in which an apparent lone individual, armed with superior intellect and talent, went off the rails of his life. Something, which we will come to learn later, ripped his humanity right from his being and allowed, no forced, him to become a wanton murderer. Demonic, the governor of Colorado called him this morning. We can’t feel his pain, but it must be intolerable.

    So here we go again… beating the gun control drum… as if it was his rifle that made him do it…his 15,000 rounds of ammunition… his ability to even get such things… but what about the explosives he had, the chemicals with which he bobby-trapped his apartment… he sheerly sophisticated way that he proceeded… his further ability to wreak mayhem in so many demonstrable ways? No – none of these external things was responsible for his psychological break – something for which there was no prior discernible warning. He clearly would have killed with whatever he had to get the job done… maybe even ramming his car through the theater. He was damaged goods.

    Before we, as a society, laser-focus once again on his .000002% membership in the gun owners community, why not take on the bigger picture of just exactly how an intelligent, talented, accomplished, scientifically and technologically adept individual could see life this way? What is it about our society and institutions that would engender such behavior? Is he crazy… or merely responding logically to an array of environmental clues that paint the picture of a very dangerous, evil country in which to live?

    Headlines abound… Police shoot and kill handcuffed man in custody… Police taser 7-year old girl… New tool allows deputies to go after car owners who owe taxes… gov’t drones are flying over and surveilling major cities across the US… NSA intercepts all electronic communications in US and has 1.2 Billion files on American citizens… This Is The Government: Your Legal Right To Redeem Your Money Market Account Has Been Denied… Radiation On West Coast of North America Could End Up Being 10 Times HIGHER than in Japan… Leaked Docs Reveal ‘Off the Charts’ Damage at US Nuke Plant… Iranian assets in United States mosques, universities activated for potential terrorist attacks… and, finally, without even scratching the surface of all that’s out there, Death-Obsessed Culture, Not Gun Rights, To Blame For ‘Batman’ Shooting.

    There are just so many reasons that even a sane – well-informed – person would begin to see the US as an evil place to be upended. No, it doesn’t make it right, nor is it the way forward. It is merely a sign that the people we’ve put in in power and the culture we’ve allowed to fester have forged a breeding ground for such diabolical acts.

    I wonder how the mothers, fathers, and children of the many thousand innocent civilians we’ve killed in Afghanistan feel today?

    • Almandine

      July 23, 2012 at 10:35 pm

      Another useful headline… Hallmarks of a False Flag: Colorado University Held Identical Drill on Same Day as Aurora Theater Mass Shooting, Mind Control, and Multiple Suspects.

      Poor bastard.

  7. woody188

    July 26, 2012 at 9:18 am

    We need to outlaw all emergency exits right now before another is used in a mass murder!