Even with increasing violence, there’s little enthusiasm for gun control

Gun control advocates sputter at their own impotence. The National Rifle Association is politically ascendant. And Barack Obama’s White House pledges to safeguard the Second Amendment in its first official response to the deaths of at least 12 people in a mass shooting at a new Batman movie screening in suburban Denver.

Once, every highly publicized outbreak of gun violence produced strong calls from Democrats and a few Republicans for tougher controls on firearms.

Now those pleas are muted, a political paradox that’s grown more pronounced in an era scarred by Columbine, Virginia Tech, the wounding of a congresswoman and now the shootings in a suburban movie theater where carnage is expected on-screen only.

“We don’t want sympathy. We want action,” Dan Gross, president of the Brady campaign said Friday as President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney mourned the dead.

Ed Rendell, the former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, was more emphatic than many in the early hours after the shootings. “Everyone is scared of the NRA,” he said on MSNBC. “Number one, there are some things worth losing for in politics and to be able to prevent carnage like this is worth losing for.”

Yet it’s been more than a decade since gun control advocates had a realistic hope of getting the type of legislation they seek, despite predictions that each shocking outburst of violence would lead to action.

In 1994, Congress approved a 10-year ban on 19 types of military-style assault weapons. Some Democrats quickly came to believe the legislation contributed to their loss of the House a few months later.

Five years later, Vice President Al Gore cast a tie-breaking Senate vote on legislation to restrict sales at gun shows.

The two events turned out to be the high-water mark of recent Democratic drives to enact federal legislation aimed at reducing gun violence, and some Republicans said they could see the shift coming.

“The news media in its lather to distort this whole issue may be wrong in their estimation that this will help Al Gore,” then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said in an Associated Press interview a few weeks after the tie-breaking vote. “As a matter of fact, it may already have hurt him, and it may hurt him a lot more.”

By 2004, when the assault weapon ban lapsed, congressional Democrats made no serious attempt to pass an extension. President George W. Bush was content to let it fade into history.

Public sentiment had swung.

According to a Gallup poll in 1990, 78 percent of those surveyed said laws covering the sale of firearms should be stricter, while 19 percent said they should remain the same or be loosened.

By the fall of 2004 support for tougher laws had dropped to 54 percent. In last year’s sounding, 43 percent said they should be stricter, and 55 percent said they should stay the same or be made more lenient.

In terms of electoral politics, Harry Wilson, a Roanoke College professor and author of a book on gun politics, said violent crime has been declining in recent years and, “It becomes increasingly difficult to make the argument that we need stricter gun control laws.”

Additionally, he said in some regions, gun control “can be a winning issue for Democrats. But nationally, it’s a loser … and they have figured that out.” Attempts to emphasize the issue will “really motivate the opposition. And in a political campaign, nobody wants to do that,” he said.

At its core, Wilson said, the issue divides rural voters from urban voters.

Often, that means Republicans on one side, Democrats on the other. But not always.

In the current election cycle, the NRA has made 88 percent of its political donations to Republicans, and 12 percent to Democrats, according to OpenSecrets.org. The disparity obscures that the organization consistently supports some Democrats, a strategy that allows it to retain influence in both parties.

Its clout was vividly on display in 2010 when majority Democrats in the House sidetracked legislation giving the District of Columbia a voting representative in the House of Representatives. Republicans had vowed to add an NRA-backed provision invalidating a city ban on handgun possession as the price for passage, and there was little doubt it had the votes to prevail.

Later in the year, the NRA objected to legislation to require groups airing political advertising to disclose donors. Fearing the fallout, enough rank and file Democrats demanded changes that the leadership had to revise the bill. A revised bill, granting the NRA and other large organizations an exemption, eventually passed.

Dan Gross, head of the Brady Campaign to End Handgun Violence, says Democrats have drawn the wrong lessons for years. “The cultural narrative exists because of the assessment of Al Gore’s loss in 2000 and the mid-terms in 1994, and in both cases I think the gun issue was scapegoated,” he said. “Those who didn’t vote for Al Gore weren’t going to vote for him anyway.”

At the same time, Gross readily conceded the lingering hold of the issue.

“Look at Kerry when he felt he needed to dress up in hunting gear,” he said, referring to the Democratic presidential candidate’s well-photographed excursion into a duck blind in camouflage clothing in swing-state Ohio a few weeks before the 2004 election.

Four years later, Obama won the White House despite strong opposition from the NRA.

As a senator from Illinois and state lawmaker before that, he was a strong supporter of gun control.

Following last year’s killing of six people and the wounding of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., Obama called for steps to “keep those irresponsible, law-breaking few from getting their hands on a gun in the first place.”

He advanced no legislative proposals then, and on Friday, spokesman Jay Carney said, “The president believes that we need to take common-sense measures that protect Second Amendment rights of Americans, while ensuring that those who should not have guns under existing law do not get them.”

Obama isn’t the only 2012 White House candidate to adjust his views on gun control.

In a losing Senate campaign in Massachusetts in 1994, Mitt Romney said, “I don’t line up with the NRA.” A decade later, as governor, he signed legislation making a state assault weapons ban permanent.

This year, bidding for support at the NRA convention, he said: “We need a president who will enforce current laws, not create new ones that only serve to burden lawful gun owners.”

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12 Responses to "Even with increasing violence, there’s little enthusiasm for gun control"

  1. Keith  July 24, 2012 at 8:47 am

    It’s now WAY too late for any meaningful “gun control” in the USA.

    The United States has now become an armed camp with over 50 million gun owners… most of whom feel they must “protect” themselves from the other 49, 999, 999 (not to mention the thousands of unregistered outlaws) who might do them harm.

    I always breathe a bit easier when I bump back across the US/Canadian border into Canada. At least there, the risk of me or my family being blown away in the crossfire is virtually nil.

  2. Sandy Price  July 24, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Keith, you are right! What on earth could be driving Americans to keep killing other Americans legally? Our televisions are filled with people gunning down each other and then appearing in court and found innocent. Our new culture is based on McCoy vs Hatfields acting out with music and drama. We often feel guilty enjoying the drama. We get all the blood and guts offered and then a 30 second commercial showing well trained animals.

    With gun control, we might even see less killing for amusement.

  3. Willie Buck Merle  July 24, 2012 at 9:51 am

    I’ve also read that during the reign of Louis XIV there was little enthusiasm for regicide coming from the peasants… so said their press at the time.

  4. Almandine  July 24, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Another Headline attached to a meaningful discussion about keeping and bearing arms…

    The Missing Link on Gun Control

    • Almandine  July 24, 2012 at 12:57 pm

      There is also the misperception voiced in the title of this article that gun violence is increasing, when in fact the available statistics show that gun violence is lower than at any other time since the Nineteen Seventies.

      • Bill Cravener  July 25, 2012 at 4:59 am

        Its likely murder rates are down because individual gun ownership is down and the policing of inner city gangs are up. Though the number of gun owners has declined the number of guns hasn’t. That can only mean that America’s dwindling number of gun owners is each amassing bigger arsenals than ever before. Those of whom I call gun lovers.

        As to murder rates dropping, there has been no corresponding decline in mass murders.

  5. Sandy Price  July 24, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    Any gun violence is too much for America. Aren’t we supposed to be a Christian nation?

    Violence fills in when debate is often ignored. Do you like the violence that is based on senseless actions? How many killings are acceptable in your world?

    • Almandine  July 24, 2012 at 9:03 pm

      YOU are wielding the Christian label ???

      Don’t make us all vomit.

  6. Sandy Price  July 25, 2012 at 9:32 am

    The truth often makes people want to vomit. I’m a Secular Humanist and we tend to look a life according to the individual. The key word is keeping religion out of the government. This is an issue on which we will never agree. When religion demands individual rights for all humans, this senseless slaughter will stop. Are you wielding a rifle in front of your children while claiming to be a Christian? I worry about the future.

  7. woody188  July 25, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    Motor vehicles kill more people every year than any other owned property. There are no calls for more scrutiny when someone buys a vehicle. A 62-year old woman just ran over 24 people in Lima, OH and claims her vehicles brakes malfunctioned. Where are the calls to ban “assault vehicles” capable of plowing through large crowds?

    In the year 2007, guns killed:

    Homicide with a firearm: 12,129
    Suicide with a firearm: 17,348
    Death by accidental discharge of firearm: 721
    And roughly 5,000 deaths from legal interventions(I.E. police shooting criminals)

    Motor vehicles kill 40,000 people per year. The death toll for a single day can range from 45 to 252 people.

    So long as you aren’t suicidal and are a law abiding citizen, you are 3 times more likely to die by a motor vehicle versus a firearm.

    • Bill Cravener  July 26, 2012 at 4:44 am

      That argument has always been absurd. Vehicles cause accidental deaths and though there are accidental deaths by guns generally gun deaths are deliberate, be it suicidal or murder. If all guns disappeared from private ownership would we implode as a nation? Hardly! Take all vehicles away and this nation would die. Vehicles especially in America are needed on a daily bases. To compare the number of accidental vehicle deaths to deliberate gun deaths is being disingenuous.

      • woody188  July 26, 2012 at 9:35 am

        The only thing protecting us from foreign and domestic enemies at this point is our private ownership of guns. Vehicles have also been used for suicide and murder. The only one being insincere, and as always, the first to throw veiled personal attacks, is Mr. Cravener.

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