Whatever happened to gun control?
Less than a month after the tragic massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook, President Obama and lawmakers in Congress have all but disavowed the issue of gun control and tighter gun laws in favor of more politically charged standoffs like the “fiscal cliff.”
The politics of Newtown were supposed to be different. A deep sense of national mourning and unprecedented language from politicians in support of new measures aimed at controlling the surge in gun and gun violence present immediately following the Connecticut tragedy has given way to a familiar pattern of intransigence and a withering of political will that has marked the aftermath of so many mass shootings.
While those in power have largely shifted away from talking about gun control, deaths of Americans at the hands of dangerous guns have not stopped.
A running tally posted on Slate.com of every gun death since Newtown has topped 400, with exactly 409 Americans gunned down since the Sandy Hook massacre as of the writing of this post. Ironically, the regional breakdown of gun violence victims finds a large percentage have occurred within a few hundred miles or less of the White House and the U.S. Capitol in Washington, where legislative inaction can be blamed for so many of these individual tragedies.
Perhaps no statistic puts the pervasive nature of gun violence in America today in proper perspective than the report that deaths at the hands of firearms will soon top the number of auto-related fatalities in the United States.
Pro-gun interests regularly cite the greater preponderance of car accidents and the carnage they cause as reason not to outright ban any kinds of weapons; the false equivalence of the gun lobbyists posits that guns should never be regulated or certain kinds banned when automobiles kill more people.In 2015, that will no longer be the case.
Guns and cars have long been among the leading causes of non-medical deaths in the U.S. By 2015, firearm fatalities will probably exceed traffic fatalities for the first time, based on data compiled by Bloomberg.
While motor-vehicle deaths dropped 22 percent from 2005 to 2010, gun fatalities are rising again after a low point in 2000, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shooting deaths in 2015 will probably rise to almost 33,000, and those related to autos will decline to about 32,000, based on the 10-year average trend.
As the nation reels from the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the shift shows the effects of public policy, said Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis.
The fall in traffic deaths resulted from safer vehicles, restricted privileges for young drivers and seat-belt and other laws, he said. By contrast, “we’ve made policy decisions that have had the impact of making the widest array of firearms available to the widest array of people under the widest array of conditions.” While fewer households have guns, people who own guns are buying more of them, he said.
The Dec. 14 slaying of 20 children and six adults at the school in Newtown, Connecticut, reignited a debate over gun violence. While mass murders are rare, shootings aren’t. About 85 Americans are shot dead daily — 53 of them suicides. Every day, one of those killed by firearms is 14 or younger.
Advocates for tighter regulations on the most powerful guns available in mass quantities and massive ammunition clips used in many of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings are beginning to grow frustrated that statistics like those described above have done nothing to move debate on gun control forward post-Newtown.
In fact, leaders in Washington have taken several notable steps back from what had been the precipice of substantive legislation that seemed likely just last month.
Many lawmakers with close ties to the National Rifle Organization and other pro-gun groups expressed support for common sense gun control after Sandy Hook. Most notably, President Obama teared up at a press conference on the day of the shooting and promised “meaningful action” in order to prevent future tragedies.
The political landscape looks considerably different in the new year. Indicative of Washington;’s return the same old reality on guns is much softer language from the president on the issue of pressing for new gun laws. Sidestepping the pledge for “meaningful action,” Obama said last weekend on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that any chance that he will support gun control legislation rests with the “American people.”
Only if the public “decides” that tighter gun restrictions are important will the president take up the issue in a forceful way, Obama reasoned, suggesting that there is “very little” that he could actually do.
But Obama stressed that reform cannot happen without broad public support, suggesting that he will rally public opinion for sensible gun safety regulations or drop the effort if Americans are not on board.
“We’re not going to get this done unless the American people decide it’s important and so this is not going to be a matter of me spending political capital. One of the things that you learn having now been in this office for four years. The old adage of Abraham Lincoln’s, ‘with public opinion there is nothing you can’t do and without public opinion there is very little you can get done in this town.’”
Critics call these statements a shocking backtrack by the president, lambasting him for dropping the ball on gun control at the moment when the American people are demanding action and “meaningful” change may actually be possible.
Those frustrated with the White House and its mercurial positions on gun control point to the president’s public embrace of the victim and families of Newtown while ignoring the spiraling epidemic of gun violence in his own home city.
Chicago recently “celebrated” the dark milestone of reaching 500 gun-related homicides in 2012, a year in which the city dealt with an unprecedented escalation of a gun violence problem that was already of crisis proportions.
One Chicago columnist blasted President Obama and Congress for not granting the victims in minority and urban areas the same treatment they bestowed on the 26 dead in Connecticut, charging that the president refuses to show up for funerals in inner city Chicago.
“We make the Sandy Hook – which was a tragedy – a big deal. Why don’t the politicians come to the funerals of the dead African-American and Latino kids who get killed by the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds,” asked Kass. “The media has ghettoized these children, these homicide victims.”
“I’m not diminishing the others, I’m just saying, President Obama, show up at a funeral here in Chicago once in a while too,” Kass concluded.
With little evidence that any initiative for gun control has been sustained in the wake of Newtown, any hope for legislation on Capitol Hill taking on assault weapons or high-capacity ammunition clips may be officially dead as the 113th Congress begins its session this week.
Washington is the last place where anything of substance can be achieved in America today, with the tragicomic travails of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations putting a virtual hold on any issues outside of those that House Republicans feel comfortable taking on. Movement on gun laws will take some level of bipartisan cooperation, something that is nonexistent given that congressional gridlock almost pushed the country over the edge of economic ruin just days ago.
Any chance that issues derisively branded by pundits and special interests as “sideshows” — like gun control — will be seriously taken up by either the president or Congress this year seems far-fetched as lawmakers face as many as three additional “fiscal cliff” deadlines before the end of March.
The key to congressional action is to strike when the iron is hot. In the case of immigration reform, the GOP has to feel the sting of Mitt Romney’s defeat as if it were yesterday. Supporters of gun control, an issue that had been all but abandoned before the school shooting in Connecticut, say Obama must act while public opinion is on their side. As time passes, it’s only logical to assume that a sense of urgency will give way to the gravitational pull of preserving the status quo.
And, of course, there is the boulder-sized obstacle known as the GOP-controlled House, which has proven time and again that it has no interest in compromising with Democrats on pretty much anything. In addition to keeping immigration and gun control in the spotlight, the Obama administration may have to adopt the same strategy it used (or stumbled upon) in the deal to extend the Bush tax cuts for all but the wealthiest Americans, which involved securing strong Republican support in the Senate.