Blog No. 23 The Sandy Hook Anniversary

The anniversary of the tragedy at at the Sandy Hook Elementary School should not pass without comment. Yet it is a dispiriting subject to address. The prospects for significant strengthening of gun control laws seem as remote as ever. Nevertheless, the sisyphean struggle continues and deserves the support of RINOs.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, the high-water mark in the effort to improve gun control was perhaps the vote on the Manchin-Toomey Amendment, defeated in the Senate last April by a margin of 54-46. The Amendment was a modest measure that would have extended the requirement of background checks to cover not only sales by federally licensed gun dealers but sales at gun shows and over the internet as well. Despite the limited nature of the amendment, and the fact that its sponsors, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, are no one’s idea of liberals, the amendment gained the support of only three brave Republicans in addition to Toomey: Susan Collins of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois, and John McCain of Arizona. 

Because the weapon used at Sandy Hook was purchased and owned by the shooter’s mother, an expanded requirement for background checks would not have prevented the carnage. But passage of the Manchin-Toomey Amendment would have shown the ability of Congress to pass some gun control legislation against the opposition of the NRA. Conversely, its failure symbolizes the apparent futility of seeking any such legislation at the federal level or in states (predominantly “red”) where the political power of gun advocates is strongest.

When the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment protected the right of individual gun ownership, one might have hoped that it would be taken by the NRA and other gun advocates as reassurance that their guns would not be taken away. Thus, they need not oppose every form of gun control as a step onto the “slippery slope” to confiscation. But such a hope would have been naïve.

One of the arguments against the Manchin-Toomey Amendment was that it might lead to a federal gun registry. When The Wall Street Journal appeared to endorse this argument, the writer responded with a letter that the Journal published on April 24, 2013:

The Journal acknowledges that the Manchin-Toomey Amendment would not have created a federal gun registry, but echoes the expressed fear of the National Rifle Association and its enablers that it might have led to one. But you don’t pause to tell us why that would be such a bad thing. After all, most of us register our motor vehicles and don’t feel particularly oppressed by the requirement. The Journal doesn’t mention but seems tacitly to adopt the claim of the gun lobby that a registry would somehow lead to the confiscation of guns. That claim is absurd on its face. To begin with, the likelihood of a political will to confiscate guns is beyond remote. In short, Manchin-Toomey was no panacea, but it was a small step in the right direction, and the refusal to take that step was shameful.

Douglas M. Parker

In the view of, the analogy to motor vehicle registration remains persuasive, but there is no evidence that it will prevail any time soon.  Still less is there any likelihood of legislation banning assault weapons or high capacity magazines similar to the measures that failed in the Senate in April.

Congress has done nothing and is not likely to in the near future. Meanwhile, state legislatures have been active, but the results are not particularly encouraging. As Joe Nocera reported in his column in The New York Times, states have passed more laws (74) that were pro-gun than gun control (66). Nocera also reported on the several organizations and websites that have been organized to support gun control or to make some change in the country’s gun culture: Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, Sandy Hook Promise, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Evolve, and The Truth About Guns. But none of these groups, individually or collectively, have the political clout of the NRA.

Meanwhile the violence continues. It was a sad footnote to Nocera’s column on December 13, that a story about the latest school shooting in Centennial Colorado, appeared the following day on page 14 of the print edition of the Times.  Tragedy has become routine.

A column by Fareed Zakaria in The Washington Post provided some arresting statistics:

The number of deaths by firearms in the United States was 32,000 last year. Around 11,000 were gun homicides.

To understand how staggeringly high this number is, compare it to the rate in other rich countries. England and Wales have about 50 gun homicides a year — 3  percent of our rate per 100,000 people. Many people believe that America is simply a more violent, individualistic society. But again, the data clarify. For most crimes— theft, burglary, robbery, assault — the United States is within the range of other advanced countries. The category in which the U.S. rate is magnitudes higher is gun homicides.

The U.S. gun homicide rate is 30 times that of France or Australia, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, and 12 times higher than the average for other developed countries.

To Zakaria, the solution is “blindingly obvious”: laws limiting access to guns, and he cited Australia as having the kind of laws that have been most effective. The Australian laws, however, are so strict that the likelihood of their being adopted here is less than remote. In fact merely referring to Australia may be counterproductive in that for some it will lend credibility to the slippery slope argument.

Given the slim chances of federal gun control legislation in the near future, it may be that efforts should be concentrated on the states and in the court of public opinion. As to the latter, some reason to hope may be drawn from the effectiveness of anti-smoking ads and commercials, which have been a major factor in reducing smoking in this country.

In this case, if generalized demands for gun control do not change hearts and minds, more narrowly focused messages may be more productive. For example, many gun deaths, homicides like Sandy Hook or accidental shootings, are carried out with weapons the shooter did not own and that are used in ways the owner did not imagine. Would it not make sense to have a campaign directed at gun owners, impressing upon them their personal responsibility to strictly control the access to and use of the weapons? Such a message, accompanied by the compelling examples of Sandy Hook and other incidents, might well save some lives.

4 thoughts on “Blog No. 23 The Sandy Hook Anniversary

  • Doug: thanks for the grimly accurate summary of a bitterly sad state of affairs. My sense is that the court of public opinion has rendered its verdict: unfettered access to firearms is dangerous to all of us. But the intensity of that feeling of danger from guns is no match for the ferocity of the NRA and its enablers in stoking the fears of gun owners and intimidating politicians.
    As to getting beneficial action at the State level, the Colorado experience leads to the depressing conclusion that the NRA wields its clout effectively in the statehouses. It would be a rare and brave State legislator who attempts what their Colorado counterparts did.
    How long did it take MADD to get traction? How long did the abolitionists have to struggle against slavery?

  • Doug….you have alluded to the silent majority that remains silent…perhaps because WE recognize that there are SO many guns out there in the possession (already) of so many people that no matter what legislation gets passed, in the long run, if someone wants to go on a spree, they will find the weapon and they will do it. Laws will not stop sprees. Controlling weapons….not possible at this late date…….sadly….and the silent majority recognizes this fact

  • But if the guns were registered, the government would know who had them and might use that information to call up a militia, were one ever needed…oh…never mind…

  • Excellent suggestion, Doug. The overall outlook for reasonable controls is so bleak it is easy to be overcome by the inertia of despair. And if such a targeted ad campaign were undertaken on a massive scale, it would provide a nice forum to continue hammering at the huge number of both accidental and homicidal gun deaths, with the potential for sensitizing the non-gun-owning public to the urgency of enacting broader reforms (all in the guise of seeming to lecture only to gun-owners about their responsibility to handle with care).

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