It’s predictable after every new mass-shooting horror: The political right’s reflexive call for “thoughts and prayers,” which is then mocked by people who favor more gun restrictions for lacking any accompanying ideas for preventing future killings.
But there’s an equally predictable refrain on the center-left and in the media, too: “Once again, nothing will be done.”
Barely had the death toll of 17 been announced last week after the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida than The Washington Post declared, “The gun debate is going nowhere quickly after Parkland.” CNN offered: “Amid continued string of mass shootings, gun control going nowhere in Congress.” After 59 concert-goers were mowed down in October, former Democratic congressman Steve Israel put to rest any hope for reform in a New York Times op-ed column titled “Nothing Will Change After the Las Vegas Shooting.”
This fatalism is borne of hard-won experience. Congress has failed repeatedly to pass any gun-control measures after past calamities, even the 2012 massacre of 20 first-graders and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Yet this world-weary defeatism is self-fulfilling in its own way, and helps explain why Washington hasn’t taken action to address the killing.
For one thing, such pessimism demoralizes, and dismisses, those who are motivated to fight against gun violence, such as the network of angry moms that sprung up after the Sandy Hook massacre and the organization led by former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, which have managed to achieve a series of state-level successes even as reform stalls at the national level.
For another thing, it lets off the hook those who are opposed to stronger gun laws. Declaring preemptively that any new effort at gun-law reform is doomed spares opponents from even having to make their arguments for protecting the gun lobby.
Most importantly, liberal fatalism on gun control overstates the strength of the opposition. The National Rifle Association’s influence depends heavily on the perception of its power. By building up the gun lobby as an indomitable force, pessimists are playing directly into its hands.
No doubt, the NRA is influential. Not so much because of the campaign contributions it makes to candidates, but because it can count on an energized grass-roots base of gun-rights supporters to turn out at the polls and badger elected officials with calls and emails. But that influence has limits, and there are plenty of reasons to believe that it is on the wane.
For one thing, the proportion of Americans with guns has been steadily declining, to its lowest level in decades, though there are recent signs that the decline has leveled off. (The reason why the number of guns continues to rise despite this demographic trend is that the remaining gun owners are buying more and more weapons.) Meanwhile, gun ownership is growing more heavily clustered in certain states. That limits the voting power of the gun lobby.
For another thing, the aforementioned notorious failure, to pass background checks following the Sandy Hook massacre, was a closer call than many people realized. It got 55 Senate votes, just five short of a filibuster-proof 60. Six senators with A ratings from the NRA voted for it. It would still have had to get through the GOP-controlled House, but that was not out of the question: there would have been tremendous pressure from Sandy Hook families on then-Speaker John Boehner to hold a vote, and unlike in the Senate, it would have required only a majority, which meant getting fewer than 20 Republicans to vote for it.
And consider what happened after that vote. Two of the four red-state Democrats who voted no, Arkansas’ Mark Pryor and Alaska’s Mark Begich, got zero NRA back-up in return for that vote and lost re-election in 2014, proving to other centrist Democrats that there’s no point in currying NRA favor. It’s hard to tell now, with Republicans in control of Washington, but the NRA’s decision to become a purely partisan organization, after years of courting Democrats as well, could come back to haunt it in the near future.
Meanwhile, one of the purple-state Republicans who voted no, New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, lost in 2016 in a race in which the pro-gun-law groups went after her hard for that vote. No longer is voting with the NRA the obvious safe tack for a self-interested politician.
There are other signs that the political winds are shifting on the issue. In Virginia, the NRA’s home state, Ralph Northam was elected governor by a wide margin despite his F rating from the NRA and outspoken calls for tougher laws, following in the footsteps of Terry McAuliffe and Tim Kaine, who both also won statewide election despite their staunch anti-NRA stance.
Meanwhile, the empirical case for reducing gun violence through tougher restrictions has been growing stronger, providing counter to the oft-heard claims that “laws wouldn’t make a difference anyway.” Missouri has seen a sharp rise in shooting deaths after eliminating in-person background checks for gun purchases. Connecticut, on the other hand, has seen a sharp decline in shooting deaths after it instituted stringent gun-permitting requirements following Sandy Hook.
Of course, with Republicans now in control of Congress and the White House, the odds are stacked against federal legislation. But that’s the case with plenty other issues that liberals still see reason to keep pushing forward on at all levels of government, from health care to climate change to the minimum wage, even if momentary prospects are not bright.
Bottom line, the widespread fatalism on guns is self-fulfilling. It inflates the power of the opposition, undermines activists, and gives off the air of defeat, never a good thing in a country that prizes winners.
But now a new generation may be showing a different way. A remarkable wave of student outrage and activism is spreading from Parkland, serving as a rebuke not only to conservatives who have blocked gun-law reform, but also to liberals who had given up the fight.
“When we’ve had our say with the government — and maybe the adults have gotten used to saying ‘it is what it is,’ but if us students have learned anything, it’s that if you don’t study, you will fail,” declared Emma Gonzalez, a Parkland student, in a speech that has gone viral on the Internet. “And in this case if you actively do nothing, people continually end up dead, so it’s time to start doing something.”
Such youthful determination will run up against plenty of hard realities. But in this she is right: The worst odds of all lie in declaring any effort hopeless.
–Alec McGillis, ProPublica
It is no surprise that the left-wing Pro Publica blames the gun and conveniently omits the fact that the FBI has admitted that it dropped the ball on this matter, failing to follow up on numerous tips regarding this sick twist. Also no mention that the police responded to this scumbag’s house 39 times over a 7 year period. OF COURSE this dirtbag should have never been able to buy guns; if people would have done their JOB he would not have had them. The NRA is the only organization in the country that gets blamed for things that they did not do.
Maybe if they concetrated on what really needs to be done they would gain some traction. What is their solution? To march? To expouse more violent retortic? Or to actually to make a change that will help solve the problem? What “stronger” gun laws would stop this from happening? What exactly do they want. “Stronger gun laws” is very open ended.
Trailer Bob says
Of course there should be strict rules to follow for the right to own a gun. If the FBI didn’t drop the ball on this one, there would still be all those children living. I have guns and I do not want crazy people to own them either. The problem with the anti-gun lobby is that they try to go to far, including calling all of us gun-nuts or red necks or crazy killers. There are millions of us who have guns and are decent loving and sane people. There will never be “gun control” until there is “people control”. It is not the guns, but rather the people, so work on that instead of showing picture of guns and talk about guns. A gun is a tool, period.
Yuri Nator says
I would generally agree with Trailer Bob but until we fix the social problems at the core of this issue, of which I am sure we are very far away from, we need to make it more difficult for those people to obtain weaponry. I simply no longer trust the vast majority of strangers around me. We need to make legally obtaining weapons more difficult with more stringent checks. Sick of all the silly arguments against that.
Stranger in a strange land says
@ Trailer Bob The Mother of the Newtown killer kept her guns in a safe. The family that took in Nikolas Cruz grew up with guns. The Husband was a decorated army veteran and a military intelligence analyst. They allowed Nikolas to keep his guns as long as they were in a cabinet that they thought only they had a key to. Anonymous surveys show most kids know where guns are in their house and how to get them and their parents are not aware of that. These people thought they were taking reasonable precautions. They thought they were exibiting “people control” as you put it. The reality is that guns can kill instantly and that is what they are designed to do. One moment of carelessness or one thing overlooked (using the standard family combination on the lock of the gun safe for example or having a spare key with all the other spare keys) can lead to a child’s suicide, shooting of a girlfriend or school rival/bully or the death of seventeen innocent children and adults in Florida or twenty six in Connecticut. Studies show the human brain is not fully developed until about 25. Particularly the parts used to measure risk. There is no safe way to have guns in a house where there are people under that age. Unfotunately people won’t do that voluntarily so maybe it has to become a law. I still have not heard one good reason for anyone to own an assault type weapon. Try me.
What happens when thug A buys a gun from thug B on the street? Do you think thug A will run a background check? I think not. Solution please?
Something is being done. Congress is introducing legislation to make the reporting rules more stringent so nothing can fall through the cracks. There will be consequences for agencies if this should happen.
As for the NRA, dream on. You don’t have to own a gun to join the NRA and people join because it is the only organization in Washington looking out for our rights under the Constitution. It is not weakening. I’m betting people are signing up right now. Call them the People’s lobbyist. NRA members are not committing these shootings. They are decent families.
Funny how gun rights gets everybody going, but killing millions of unborn babies does not.
Stranger in a strange land says
@Mark. Neither will all the guns that were unsecured in unlocked cars legitimately purchased by “responsible” gun owners involve a backround check. In 2016 over 300 guns fell into the wrong hands that way just in Volusia County. That’s how many were reported, presumably legally acquired guns. God knows how many more were not reported. It’s not “thug A and Thug B”, it’s average Joe gun owner and idiot kid looking for loose change in an open car that becomes Thug A when he then uses that gun to rob a store. Ask a police officer how often an unsecured gun is found in a house. The nightstand drawer is not secured. Most gun owners do not take the nessesary precautions to fully secure their guns and that is how “Thug A” , teenager B, and toddler C get their hands on a deadly weapon. that is part of the reason this is a dangerous country to live in. Here is the article re. 300+ guns:
Sad how people think in our nation. Gun laws are very important for all of us but mass abortions of the unborn always take a back burner to someone who has never seen one day of LIFE!!! All LIVES MATTER.
Hey Stranger says
Hey Stranger – in 2016 over 60,000 Americans died from drug overdoses. Where is your outrage about that?
Why is it that the strict guy laws we have in place right now are not being followed. How come people that committed crimes in Florida were not put on the list to prevent them from purchasing guns.
How come the FBI in Florida did not follow through on the shooter down in Florida?
Why did the security Police Officer on duty at the school stay outside when he heard the gun shots. He was supposed to go inside the school to protect the students.
Tricia, no one wants to supply answers to those tough questions. All they want is to take away our constitutional rights. Plus talk about what “needs” to be done but never get anything accomplished that WILL make a difference.