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Sun Dec 16, 2012, 03:15 AM

Making Gun Control Happen

December 16, 2012
Making Gun Control Happen
Posted by Patrick Radden Keefe

... One irony of the pernicious taboo on “politicizing” a tragedy is that in some especially thorny areas of policy—like, for instance, gun control—it is only a tragedy that can summon the political momentum for change. The original Gun Control Act passed in October 1968, following the demoralizing assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. The Brady Act owes its existence to the unsuccessful attempt on the life of Ronald Reagan.

But by 2011, when Gabrielle Giffords narrowly survived a bullet in the head, the dynamic of the debate had changed. “After the Giffords shooting, I thought something would happen with gun control,” a recently retired official from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms told me last summer. But nothing did. “Apparently, a member of Congress doesn’t count,” he said. “So now I’m wondering, what exactly does it take? Another presidential assassination?”

What does it take? If a congresswoman in a coma isn’t sufficient grounds to reëvaluate the role that firearms play in our national life, is a schoolhouse full of dead children? I desperately want to believe that it is, and yet I’m not sure that I do. By this time next week, most of the people who are, today, signing petitions and demanding gun control will have moved on to other things. If you want to understand why the gun debate can occasionally feel rigged, this is the answer: the issue is characterized by a conspicuous asymmetry of fervor. The N.R.A. has only four million members—a number that is probably dwarfed by the segment of the U.S. population that feels uneasy about the unbridled proliferation of firearms. But the pro-gun constituency is ardent and organized, while the gun control crowd is diffuse and easily distracted. In the 2012 election cycle, N.R.A. spending on lobbying outranked spending by gun control groups by a factor of ten to one.

What that means in practice is that in the aftermath of contemporary gun tragedies, we don’t see new gun legislation. What we do see is a spike in gun sales. After the shooting last summer in Aurora, Colorado, gun sales went up. After the Giffords shooting, there was a surge in purchases of the very Glock semiautomatic that wounded her. Certainly, the firearm industry and lobby will confront some bad P.R. in the coming weeks, but they can likely find succor in an uptick in business. Following the Newtown shooting, Larry Pratt, the Executive Director of Gun Owners for America, suggested that these massacres might be avoided in the future, if only more teachers were armed ...


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