Political Momentum For Gun Control Measures Appears To Be Stalling
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and for some time thereafter, it seemed as if there might have been a shift in the political winds in the United States when it comes to gun control. Polls showed higher than previously reported public support for proposals such as an “Assault Weapons” ban, universal background checks, restrictions on the sale of magazines, and other related items that have basically languished in the political background for the better part of a decade. In the immediate aftermath of the Newtown tragedy, though, both the President and Members of Congress began push forward. The Senate Judiciary Committee has held a number of hearing on the issue of gun control, many of them including victims of gun violence such as Gabby Giffords and the families of the Newtown victims. The denouement and the highlight, of President Obama’s State Of The Union Address was an appeal to Congress to bring the various gun control proposals to a final vote, something that the House GOP leadership has yet to fully commit to. Add to all this the fact that National Rifle Association, the primary fun rights organization to get coverage in the wake of Newtown, has run an absolutely pathetic public relations campaign, and it seems as though all of the momentum is on the side of gun control advocates.
As National Journal notes today, though, political reality is starting to set in, and the prospects for any significant gun control legislation is looking more and more dim:
At the start of this year, pressure was building for stricter gun laws with the country still in shock over the tragic shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. President Obama and gun-control advocates in Congress were ready to move quickly on legislation. Now, strong Republican opposition and a loss of momentum are putting the proposals at risk.
There is no singular, comprehensive gun-control bill before Congress. Worried that even one unpopular proposal could sink an entire legislative package, Democrats broke up the measure into different pieces.
Take the assault-rifle ban, a proposal authored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who successfully championed a measure in the 1990s that has since expired. In several of the recent gun tragedies in the United States, assault rifles or weapons with extended ammunition magazines were used—from Aurora to Newtown.
Feinstein’s bill bans 2,000 specifically named firearms and high-capacity magazines, and the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to pass the legislation along party lines and send it to the Senate floor.
Still, the legislation’s chances of passing are now slim, despite the impassioned pleas from lawmakers and people connected to gun violence. Feinstein invited some of those advocates to a Capitol Hill hearing on Wednesday where they gave emotional testimonies about the impact of gun violence on communities across the country.
This isn’t entirely surprising, of course.
For one thing, even at the height of the public attention that as being paid to gun issues in the wake of Newtown, it was incredibly unlikely that any kind of “Assault Weapons” ban would make it through Congress. For one thing, there’s the Republican majority in the House to contend with, and the fact that odds that the House Leadership will let a bill containing gun ban come to a vote on the floor are exceedingly low. For another, it’s not even clear how much Democratic support there would be for such a bill. While pro-gun Democrats like Joe Manchin have said that there were open to some ideas such as expanded background checks and possibly even restricting the size of magazines for certain guns, these Senators have expressed extreme skepticism about the kind of ban that Feinstein’s legislation contemplates. Additionally, there are a number of Democratic Senators up for re-election in red states won by Mitt Romney in 2012. For obvious reasons, it’s likely that these Senators will be reluctant to put their names on legislation likely to be unpopular in their home states. So, politically, the forces are very much against the kind of legislation that Feinstein is putting forward.
The other factor at work here is simple political inertia and the reality of voter’s attention spans. In the immediate aftermath of the Newtown tragedy, there was much public attention paid to the issue of gun violence and, given the circumstances of the shootings, there was understandable public support for the idea of doing “something” to avert a future tragedy. As time fades, the amount of attention paid to the issue is naturally going to diminish, as will the sense of urgency that something needs to be done. At the same time, the passage of time gives supporters of gun rights more time to organize their forces to oppose whatever legislation may end up being proposed and put to a vote. For that reason, it’s entirely possible that we’ll end 2013, if not the entire 113th Congress, without a single significant piece of gun legislation becoming law.