Among the most insightful comments about the response to last Friday’s deadly shooting in Aurora, Colorado, was this tweet posted on Saturday by a cat blogger somewhere, presumably in England, known as @mister_limey: “It says a lot about the US that when a man in a costume with a gun kills people, they ban costumes.”
Within two days, the comment garnered more than 7,000 re-tweets and seemed to encapsulate the frustration of many over the fecklessness (or cowardice) of our political leaders and the outright dishonesty of the gun-death lobby, aka the National Rifle Association.
It was as if the whole political world — President Obama and Mitt Romney included — simply shrugged and said, “It’s a very sad day; wish there were something we could do to stop this kind of insane violence from happening again. We can’t, of course. Oh, well, back to our lives.”
Politico summed up the prevailing conventional wisdom in Washington: “Gun tragedies used to draw widespread calls from lawmakers to toughen the nation’s firearms laws. But over the past two decades, the type of Democrats who might have rushed to embrace new restrictions have been beaten in elections, worn down by the National Rifle Association, now stampede in the opposite direction.”
Of course they do. The media, unwitting in its support of the NRA, are busy telling them that supporting any gun control measure is the kiss of political death.
The same Politico story pushed that line of reasoning this way: “An October 2011 Gallup Poll found that 73 percent of Americans would not support a ban on owning handguns except by law enforcement — the highest level of opposition in more than 50 years.”
The story then quotes Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California Los Angeles, who says, “There’s politically no appetite for a complete bans on guns.”
Any freshman in a college propaganda class would recognize that line of reasoning. It’s called a “straw man” technique. Set up an argument that almost no one is making, pretend it’s what your opponent espouses — and then knock it down.
Is the only possible response to the violence in Aurora a complete ban on every kind of gun in America? Have you heard or read about anyone prominent or influential pushing for such a law?
You probably haven’t, because the most proponents of tougher gun control laws know it’s useless to think about completely banning guns. Many of them are, like me, hunters who believe that guns — properly handled and owned by sane individuals — have an entirely appropriate role in our society.
Visit the website of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the nation’s leading gun control organization. What’s their prescription? According to a statement issued on Saturday by founders Jim and Sarah Brady, the organization wants Congress to “keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. We pledge to keep fighting the NRA and entire gun lobby to strengthen background checks to include all firearm purchases, ban assault clips with large magazines that enable mass killers, and to make it more difficult to obtain concealed carry permits.”
Does that sound like the rantings of some crazed, anti-gun liberal who wants to dispatch an army of government agents into every hamlet for a house-to-house confiscation of all of the nation’s guns?
Actually, what the Brady Campaign is proposing is fairly moderate and commonsensical — unless you’ve been drinking the NRA Kool-aide.
Many average, gun-owning Americans believe it shouldn’t be so easy for a mentally ill person to acquire such firepower so easily. Today’s New York Times shed a little light on just how simple it was for the accused Colorado gunman to stock his arsenal: “With a few keystrokes, the suspect, James E. Holmes, ordered 3,000 rounds of handgun ammunition, 3,000 rounds for an assault rifle and 350 shells for a 12-gauge shotgun — an amount of firepower that costs roughly $3,000 at the online sites — in the four months before the shooting, according to the police. It was pretty much as easy as ordering a book from Amazon.”
There are, in fact, some in the news media who are fully aware that the potential responses to the tragedy in Aurora are not limited to a) business as usual or, b) a complete ban of every gun in America.
There was another popular tweet over the weekend by someone in the media who is a bit more prominent than the Politico writer. This person’s very sensible suggestion was: “We have to do something about gun controls. Police license okay for hunting rifle or pistol for anyone without crim or pscho record. No more.” The same person later tweeted: “We don’t need AK47s to defend ourselves. Nobody does.”
That was Rupert Murdoch. Yes, the same Murdoch who owns Fox News.
Sunday morning, on Murdoch’s news network, conservative commentator Bill Kristol (former chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle) also presented the mainstream gun control position — one that he embraced.
“People have a right to handguns and hunting rifles,” Kristol said on “Fox News Sunday,” adding, “I don’t think they have a right to semi-automatic, quasi-machine guns that shoot hundreds of bullets at a time.”
Pardon my cynical mind, but Murdoch and Kristol could be setting a trap for Obama and the Democrats. After all, as a friend noted, many congressional Democrats who supported the since-repealed ban on assault weapons found themselves voted out of office in the 1994 elections.
But there’s another way to consider this. Could it be that conservatives like Murdoch and Kristol are more a bit more politically savvy than Obama and his cowardly Democratic allies in Congress?
Might they understand better than Politico that, in the long run, the best way to prevent onerous gun laws is to support sensible, politically popular guns laws? I’m talking about proposals such as reinstating the assault weapon ban and making it illegal for suspected terrorists to buy assault weapons.
Indeed, a cursory look at recent public opinion surveys reveals surprising support for just those kinds of laws.
By a 62-to-35 percent margin, Americans polled last year by Time magazine said that a federal assault weapons ban was more important than “the rights of gun owners to purchase any guns they wish to purchase.”
In the same survey, by a 51-to-39 percent margin, Americans surveyed by Time said “gun control laws should be more strict than they are now.”
Last year, the Wall Street Journal also conducted a national poll which contained a question about beefing up gun control laws. By a 52-to-37 percent margin, those interviewed by the Journal said that guns laws should be more strict.
When ABC News tested the assault weapons ban question last year, it found public opinion almost evenly divided. But on the question of “a law requiring a nationwide ban on high-capacity ammunition clips, meaning those containing more than 10 bullets,” individuals surveyed were in support of such a law by a 57-to-39 percent margin.
Do these poll numbers make it any more likely that Obama might develop a spine, or Romney a heart, when it comes to gun control? Do they indicate that congressional Democrats might again push for sensible gun control laws that a majority of Americans support? (In the New Republic on Friday, writer Nate Cohn argued that Obama might find some political traction with a proposal to reinstate the assault weapons ban.)
Alas, Obama’s spokesman has already announced the president will seek no changes in the nation’s gun laws. Obama can stand up to Osama Bin Laden, but not the NRA, the most brutally effective lobbying organization in America. The gun lobby has everything, in money and audacity, that our political leaders lack in wisdom and courage.
So, maybe Politico is correct after all. Few members of Congress will have the courage to support the commonsense gun laws that most Americans can support. After all, it’s an election year, the time which politicians are more risk averse than usual, especially when the NRA has you in its sights.
Sadly, for the thousands of Americans who will die in gun violence in the coming years, nothing will change. Except, of course, that you’ll never be able to wear a costume to a movie theater again.