And on the talk will rage until, sadly, our easily distracted national attention focuses on something else. Then we will tuck Newtown’s death toll into the same deep corner of our conscience already storing Aurora, Colo., Portland, Ore., Fort Hood, Texas, Columbine, Colo., and other landmarks to violence.
The gun lobby and its bought-and-paid-for politicians know this. That’s why most of them were silent as the nation mourned this fresh tragedy over the weekend. These voices won’t remain silent. As time passes and as legislative solutions aimed at keeping weapons out of the wrong hands are introduced, the opponents’ outcry will grow deafening. Each one proposed will be described in conspiratorial tones. The slippery slope of banning private gun ownership is embedded in each, gun-rights supporters will falsely claim.
The National Rifle Association’s control over the nation’s politics is capable of choking off any and all conversation about the regulation of firearms. To the NRA, it’s all of one piece — the assault weapon used by Adam Lanza to mow down 20 elementary school students is no different from the shotgun used by safety-conscience hunters. Per the NRA’s militant stance, to regulate certain types of weapons or to guard against who can responsibly own a gun is to rip the Second Amendment to shreds.
More importantly, the NRA has significant influence over many members of the U.S. House and Senate, meaning that legislation unpopular with the gun lobby rarely sees the light of day. (Its presence is also felt in statehouses, where scores of handgun-friendly legislation have become law over recent decades.)
This overwhelming control has kept President Barack Obama largely silent on gun regulation during his first four years in office. That reticence hasn’t mattered to the NRA, which in spite of evidence to the contrary has portrayed him as a “gun-grabber.” It spent vast sums in 2012 trying to hold Obama to a single term in the White House. If Newtown’s bloodshed moves the president to suggest fresh regulations on gun ownership, we can be sure the NRA and the politicians in its pocket will paint the proposals in the most extremist terms, regardless of their intent.
That’s no way to solve our problems. All sides of this issue should be able to work together to find solutions that work. Note the plural — solutions. We should consider:
• Toughening regulations on assault weapon ownership.
• Reminding gun owners to keep their weapons out of the wrong hands.
• Funding better ways to diagnose and treat the mentally unbalanced.
• And studying the public health implications of a nation where 1-in-5 Americans own a gun and of that figure 75 percent own more than one.
It’s unfortunate but the best way out of this mess may be for the issue to become toxic. That is for Second Amendment extremism that tolerates no reasonable debate to become politically unacceptable. It’s happened before on other matters of public health, such as the consequences of tobacco use and safety regulations for automobiles.