Outmuscled by the NRA and other gun lobby groups, progressives--and President Obama--need to speak out about gun control
The Aurora shooter came into the theater dressed for full-fledged combat, like he was on a mission in Afghanistan prepared for snipers and roadside bombs, but his targets were a bunch of people seeing a Batman movie premiere. Television shows have trotted out criminal profilers who have speculated that the shooter might have been hungry for his moment of fame, believing in his immortality, incredibly deficient in what most people have as a core reservoir of empathy for others, and possibly suffering from an untreated or exacerbated mental condition.
Kind of sotto voce, television commentators have touched on the fact that the guy got his weapons and combat gear legally, passing background checks, qualifying for the weaponry, including an automatic rifle and 6,000 rounds of ammunition, because there was nothing in the official record to be used against him.
Isn't it time to revive concern about gun control laws? A handful of Congressional Democrats, led by Representative Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), have taken some tepid steps toward tightening gun laws. McCarthy's husband was killed in a horrific shooting incident on the Long Island Rail Road almost two decades ago. Since then she has used her election to Congress to be the body's foremost advocate of gun control and most consistent truthteller about the National Rifle Association's campaign to turn back the clock.
According to The Hill, McCarthy and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) have a bill pending to place some new restrictions on gun shows. Prompted by the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), Lautenberg himself has a bill to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines A logical bill would call for banning assault weapons, given the Aurora shooter's use of an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle, though we haven't seen much mainstream action by the Party in that direction.
But the Democratic Party long ago, in the aftermath of Al Gore's razor-thin loss to George W. Bush, reduced its public advocacy of gun control. Congressional Democrats haven't exactly flocked to the McCarthy and Lautenberg bills given their timing only months before the national elections.
Since the shooting, the largest and most vocal gun control groups, such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence announced plans to push for stronger controls, though no one expects to make any headway this time around. There's good reason. The gun control lobby is way outmuscled by the gun owners lobby, led by the ubiquitous and powerful National Rifle Association. The comparison of the major pro- and anti-gun control nonprofits is pretty telling:
The comparison is kind of pathetic and gets worse if one looks at the dozens and dozens of state affiliates of the pro-gun lobby groups not to mention other conservative and libertarian organizations such as the National Center for Policy Analysis, the Heritage Foundation, and the Cato Institute that make protection of their distinctive interpretation of the Second Amendment a core ideological tenet. When it comes to the political donations of gun lobby PACs, the Center for Responsive Politics says that "Gun rights groups favor Republicans with their cash -- and give a whole lot more of it than gun control supporters."
In the aftermath of the Aurora shootings, both President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney offered the expected statements of condolences. From Romney, while struggling to prove his gun cred with his party's right wing, he wasn't about to say anything about gun control. From the President, however, occupying a bully pulpit worth more than all of the National Rifle Association's millions, could have said something, anything, about this horrific incident's serving as a reminder for this nation to tighten up gun laws, to restrict the ability of people to arm themselves like self-styled terminators, to bring some sanity and honesty to the issue. But he didn't. He was silent on gun control in the aftermath of Aurora just as he has been silent on gun control after the other mass gun killings that have occurred during his first term in office.
Maybe President Obama will have something new to add to the gun control discussion this week, but press secretary Jay Carney was quoted in two Politico articles (here and here) that the president has no plans for new gun control measures, including a reauthorization of the assault rifle ban. If the President doesn't find the wherewithal to take on the Congressional misreading of the Second Amendment and come to grips with the insane notion that Americans need access to assault rifles and ammunition appropriate for invading small nations, he will have let more than a teachable moment pass by the boards. He will have dropped the ball on the kind of leadership a president should provide to a nation in moments of crisis.
Rick Cohen is a commentator on the politics of nonprofits and foundations, writer for Nonprofit Quarterly, editor of NPQ's Cohen Report, former executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy