The Politicization of Guns — Too Soon… or Too Late?

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One of the common themes that’s emerged in media discussion on the Aurora movie theater shooting last week is that this tragedy won’t be politicized — but that it should be. Michael Grunwold at Time writes:

The telegenic schoolmarms we call pundits are all denouncing the politicization of the tragedy in Aurora, calling out the crass opportunists who would dare to use human suffering to advance their preferred public policy choices. I feel terrible about what happened in that movie theater, and I’m agnostic about gun control, but there is nothing wrong with politicizing tragedy….

“If advocates or experts or even politicians think their policy ideas can prevent the next Aurora — by preventing potential killers from obtaining guns, by making sure potential victims can carry guns, or by some other method — then by all means, now is the time to spread the word.

Federal attempts to regulate guns have essentially frozen, thanks in part to the largesse and Congressional ratings system the National Rifle Association (NRA) uses to bait and punish lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The most significant national gun control legislative limit, the assault weapons ban, lapsed in 2004 and there’s virtually no support behind renewing it (Bloomberg points out one of the weapons purchased by James Holmes had been outlawed before 2004). No one seems swayed at all by the fact that states with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun violence.”

Just how much power do pro-gun advocates wield? A lot more than the other side. As Zaid Jilani writes at Republic Report, the anti-gun control lobby spent 17 times more than the pro-gun control lobby did last year, $4,212,996 to $240,000:

Last year, the NRA spent $2,905,000 lobbying Congress. The Brady Campaign spent $40,000. Michael Bloomberg’s pro-gun control Mayors Against Illegal Guns spent $200,000 and the anti-gun control Gun Owners of America spent $1,307,996.

But the NRA and its allies exert most of their influence on the state and local level, where much of the legislating (or lack thereof) on guns actually happens. Only 37,000 citizens living in the country’s most populous city (New York) have a permit to carry handguns on the street, compared to 18,000 Colorado residents who obtained such a permit in 2008 alone — and New York City has over 3 million more residents than the entire state of Colorado.

Illinois gun owners and supporters fill out NRA applications while participating in an Illinois Gun Owners Lobby Day convention Wednesday, March 7, 2012 in Springfield, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

State laws differ dramatically across the country when it comes to guns. But the NRA and its allies use similar tactics to make sure those laws are written in their favor. From 2000 to 2006, the NRA increased the number of its lobbyists who focus on state and local governments by a third and dramatically increased the number of phone calls and letters it directs to state legislators.

These tactics have been enormously successful. Concealed carry laws are just one example. According to The Los Angeles Times:

In 1981, for example, only two states allowed residents to easily obtain permits to tote concealed handguns in public, and only one required no permit. Now, in 35 states people can readily get concealed-carry permits, and four have no permit requirements.

Another state law endorsed by the NRA, Stand Your Ground, made headlines after the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Florida originally enacted the self-defense law in 2005; earlier this year it let Martin’s alleged killer, George Zimmerman, remain free until public pressure caused the state to further investigate and prosecute. Since 2005, 24 more states have adopted similar laws, most of which — like Florida’s — are modeled on legislation written by the NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate group that helps push conservative model laws in statehouses across the country. There’s a long money trail behind this law specifically, the source being the NRA.

And while ALEC has been targeted by activists in the months since Martin’s death, losing much of its power and corporate sponsors, the NRA remains stronger than ever (conservatives even accuse it of throwing ALEC under the bus).

Equally strong, apparently, is America’s appetite for guns. In a widely reported statistic, gun sales in Colorado increased after the shooting there. One gun store employee told the Denver Post, “It’s been insane.”

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  • Ericka Nielsen Barber

    I think it would make the discussion so much easier if we called it “Gun/Munitions Industry Regulation” instead of Gun Control. It seems to me that the knee-jerk reaction to Gun (as in “My Gun”) Control is almost instantaneous and confrontational.

  • GS, New York

    Let’s focus the debate on assault weapons: Other than the police and military, what possible justification can there be for people to have such easy access to weapons that fire hundreds of rounds at a single pull of the trigger?

    The NRA and gunowners won’t back down from their “constitutional” right to own a gun. Okay. But assault weapons? What legitimate argument can be made for these toys, which kill so many so fast?

  • GS, New York

    Why don’t cops around the country simply go on strike until legislation banning assault/military weapons is introduced, and both parties sign on?


    WOW i have never read anything so out of touch with reality.. GS Really? The type of gun you are talking about.. that fires hundreds of rounds at a single pull is called a fully automatic wepon.. Which is not something you can go to walmart and buy… There is a difference between fully auto and semi auto where you have to continue pulling the trigger for each bullet. Fully auto is not readly avaible to the general public.. If the bad guy is using “these toys” they are doing so illegaly!! There are already laws in place for this.. Please tell me more how these gun laws will prevent crimals from breaking the law.. The only people who obey gun laws is law abiding citizens.. All it would take is for you to eduacate yourself. And stop thinking these gun laws would make a difference. I would rather live in a world where law abiding citizens carried guns to protect themselves from the criminals who dont obey the laws..


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  • Andrew Goddard

    GS, while I agree with your sentiment entirely, please remember that guns “that fire hundreds of rounds at a single pull of the trigger” are FULLY automatic (machine guns), which are very rarely (if ever) used in crimes. They have been heavily regulated since the 30’s. What spree killers use are semi automatics which require one trigger pull per bullet. In fact, many gun huggers will tell you that spraying bullets out, compared to firing them individually is simply a waste of ammunition. Bullets fired singly can create more victims and are thus more dangerous. The speed aspect comes not just from the rate of fire, but from the magazine capacity, which, when larger, allows uninterupted fire for longer between pauses when the magazine has to be replaced. These may seem like small technical points, but if you want to argue with gun huggers, they will dismiss your logic out of hand if you make technical mistakes. In fact high capacity hand guns have been used in many mass shootings and it is their ability to shoot individual bullets for long periods without pausing to relaod that makes them so deadly. But I do agree with you that this type of firepower should not be available to civilains.

  • TJJ

    There are legal features available to the public today, such as “bump-fire” stocks, which can easily increase the rate of fire on a semi-automatic weapon to that which would closely resemble an automatic rifle. I would rather have fully-automatic weapons be available to civilians who go through the proper licensing and training to own them – when used properly and safely, they can be a lot of fun. But if we outlaw fully automatic weapons, only those individuals who have no regard for the law will be able to obtain them – and nothing has really changed. Mass-murderers will still be as deadly as before. That logic can be extended to firearms ownership in general.

  • Grouse Feather

    We don’t allow fully automatic weapons to be owned by the public, or silencers for any firearm, why then assault rifles, 50 round magazines, night vision telescopic sights, or armor piercing bullets?

  • Grouse Feather

    Fully automatic weapons have been outlawed for public use since the 1930s as well they should be.

  • Grouse Feather

    Very good point.

  • Grouse Feather

    Because they probably can’t afford to?

  • Rock

    You are ill-informed. Most victims were injured by a pump shotgun, commonly used for hunting bird and small game. The disturbed young man tried to use a semi-automatic weapon, which jammed. That is one pull of the trigger one shot – not one pull of the trigger and hundreds if rounds. If one of the crowd had been carrying (instead of being banned by the very gun laws you propose) a concealed weapon, this tragedy may have been averted. If this criminal had obeyed the laws in place, this wouldnt have happened . The “joker” could have blown up the entire theater with the chemicals from his apartment – but that was not a part of his fantasy…….
    He could of easily ran through the crowd lined up in front of the theater and killed a dozen or more moviegoers without a call to ban the automobile.

  • Bill

    I agree totally with JK. Gun control has less to do with guns than it does with control. How much control of ourselves are we willing to give up in the name of security. Too much already I am afraid. I believe it was Ben Franklin who said, “He who is willing to sacrifice freedom for security deserves neither.” These idiots like “the Joker” get what they want, publicity and notoriety but how about those who have saved themselves and their families because of their right to bear arms get that attention.

  • Richard Frost

    Of the three weapon used in Aurora the most lethal was the 12 ga. shotgun not the AR-15. If you think an AR-15 can fire more that one round per pull of the trigger, you are exposing your ignorance about firearms.

    Millions of gun owners never commit a crime, either with or without a gun. Why is it that when a mass shooting occurs that liberals want to take the right to personal protection from millions of gun owners that didn’t shoot anyone? I have been carrying concealed for over 15 years and my gun has killed fewer people than Ted Kennedy’s car. That why I’m for banning cars.

  • Onlyjoined Foraccess

    As a Quaker I’ve been surrounded by calls for gun control for decades; I was one of those voices for a long time but honestly I’ve given up.

    Seriously, what good could gun control possibly do now anyway? There are already WAY too many guns out there and they’re not going to just disappear no matter what legislation is proposed or passed. I really believe it’s too late for America.

    I’d expatriate to a decent country in a New York minute if I could afford it.(I know, I know, don’t let the door hit me on the way out.)

  • Anonymous

    ruh roh…another tragedy happened. Guess it’s time to talk about banning guns. it’s long overdue.

  • Anonymous

    Let’s focus the debate on caring for the mentally ill. The mass murders this year by firearm has been done by people not receiving proper care and monitoring for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and illnesses of the sort. Sane people do not kill other people. However sick people with access to guns is another story. It’s much like the fire triangle (fuel, oxygen, heat). Remove one of them and the risk is minimized. Firearms are much the same (untreated mental illness, access to firearms, crowds of people). The last two I don’t believe will ever go away and as long as our approach to the mentally ill is through ignoring homelessness, building more prisons, and a more militarized police force, nothing is ever going to change. I propose putting a $50 surcharge on the sale of every firearm, which goes directly to NAMI. A win – win situation.

  • WaltGodek

    Another voice of reason…. Everything in our universe can be expressed in laws of probability. If handguns and assault weapons are kept in the hands of law enforcement and the military, the chances of seeing the parade of little white coffins declines dramatically. Oh, the parade should start early this week! Stay Tuned to FOX NEWS for the live action footage. Keep a gun at home? you contribute to the chances of putting your kid in a little white box. NO, I won’t hide on the internet, I’ll stand by my opinion.

  • Cynthia Faisst

    Being on strike sure beats being dead.

  • Cynthia Faisst

    Exactly, unless you are retailing guns in someway you really don’t have that much influence or say about the issue. The most dangerous people in this discussion are those who are making all of the profits and have the most power to corrupt our government.

  • kirby

    The legitimate argument for assault weapons: As a free,law-abiding citizen, It is MY choice what fire power I use to defend my home and to make me safe;MY choice,not Diane Feinstein’s,Michael Bloomberg’s,Congress’,or yours!!

  • kirby

    We should quit worrying about gun control and spend all our time,energy,and money figuring out why people today are so damned crazy!