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Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad NRA? Congress

By Margaret Carlson
December 18, 2012 6:30 PM EST
Margaret Carlson
Photographer: Ben Baker/Bloomberg
Margaret Carlson

What wouldn’t you do to get back one of the children slain last week in their picture-perfect elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut? Nothing that I can think of.

But nothing is what we’ve done to keep tragedies like this from happening -- even after fair warning that they would.

After the shooting, we all rally to cope, and not just with flowers and stuffed animals. Funeral directors are flocking to Newtown with their hearses: There aren’t enough of them there for 27 funerals in one week.

Last weekend, President Barack Obama came to Newtown in his all-too-familiar role as mourner in chief; as he noted, “This is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings.” Even when one of its own members hobbled into the well of the House, her brain split apart by bullets, still Congress did nothing.

Like many Democrats, the president has mostly taken a pass on gun control. On Friday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, as Washington officials often do, that the day of a massacre was “not the day to engage in the usual Washington policy debate.” By Sunday night, apparently, it was, though the president didn’t get specific; he could barely get through the names of the 20 children who were killed.

“Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?” he asked. “Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”

Crazy Politics

The shorter, more depressing answer is yes, we have been prepared to say that. The longer, more hopeful answer is maybe we no longer are.

There are still some politicians who won’t tolerate even the mention of the idea of “gun safety,” the phrase gun- control advocates use in hopes of having a conversation with Second Amendment absolutists who believe everyone has the right to carry 100-round magazine clips. Take away my Uzi, goes the argument, and pretty soon I’ll be without a rifle to shoot deer.

Politicians aren’t worried about hunters. They’re worried about the National Rifle Association, which has the fundraising and advertising power to defeat them. So we have Representative Louis Gohmert of Texas, a Republican, saying we need more guns, while in Michigan legislation that would have allowed guns in day-care centers made it all to the way to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk. (He vetoed it.)

The idea is that, had a teacher in Newtown been armed -- wearing a holster with a six-shooter, perhaps, or hiding a Bushmaster under her desk? -- we would be mourning fewer children.

It’s a ludicrous solution, arming everyone as if this were the Old West. There are more gun shops in the U.S. than there are Starbucks. More people die by gunfire in the U.S. than in any other country.

Yet the NRA continues to get its way, in the states and with Congress. That’s why the assault-weapon ban lapses. That’s why there isn’t a law that would ban weapons that can shoot 100 bullets without reloading. That’s why the U.S. attorney general doesn’t have the power to keep people on the terrorist watch list from purchasing weapons.

In Washington, we live among cowards who believe that if we can’t solve the whole problem, we won’t solve any of it. They blame video games, Hollywood, the mentally ill. True, it’s hard to stop crazy people with guns. But what about crazy people at the NRA?

Crazy People

Those, we can do something about. Senator Joe Manchin, from the rural, hunting state of West Virginia, has an A rating from the NRA. He is a friend of NRA Chief Executive Officer Wayne LaPierre, and he asked LaPierre to come to Capitol Hill to talk face-to-face about changes to our gun laws.

“Taking some weapons away is justified, let’s do it,” Manchin said. “I’ve been hunting all my life, and I don’t know anyone who ever had more than 10 clips. It’s not part of the sport.”

He didn’t get involved in gun-control legislation before, Manchin said -- but never before have so many 6- and 7-year-olds been slaughtered at once. “I’m a proud gun owner and member of the NRA,” he said. “But I’m prouder of being a parent.”

If LaPierre doesn’t accept Manchin’s invitation, it’s because letting it blow over has always worked for the NRA. If the past is a guide, weeks from now, LaPierre will go about his business, pursuing his agenda of getting concealed weapons in parks, churches and bars.

Still, even if LaPierre doesn’t think this time is different, some politicians might. Obama, for one, was visibly changed by what happened in Newtown. Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky, a Democrat, said he was ashamed that he has ignored gun control.

Granted, we can’t repeal the Second Amendment. There are things we can do, however. At a minimum we should reinstate the lapsed assault-weapon ban. Who can vote against that now? There is other legislation that can be pulled off the shelf. And if it’s too hard to control guns, maybe we can -- as the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan recommended almost two decades ago -- increase taxes on ammunition. It might have made a difference in Newtown.

(Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

To contact the writer of this article: Margaret Carlson at mcarlson3@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Michael Newman at mnewman43@bloomberg.net.

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