Funny, at one point the conventional wisdom was that , after the Newtown shooting, at least some kind of new gun control measure would be pass. I don’t think anyone was sure whether it would be significant or more of a symbolic gesture. But with young children being the victims, Congress would be compelled to take some sort of action. Instead, forty-six Senators decided to stonewall all gun legislation, putting the kibosh on doing anything (and considering things should have been easier to push through the Senate than the House, actual legislation wasn’t even close to passing). What the heck happened?
The one suggested measure that even I was surprised didn’t get anywhere was the measure to extend background checks. Sure, measures like bans on assault weapons and large capacity magazines have majority support. But at least in those cases, the opposition to those measures are a significant 40%+. And if you are a politician and believe those 40%+ are YOUR supporters, then I at least understand why as a political matter you may also want to oppose those measures. However the support for extending background checks is 80%+. That is an unheard level of support for pretty much anything. Heck, you can’t even get 80% of people to agree that Paul McCartney is still alive and not just some look-alike. (Seriously. See question 19.) At that level of support, you have to think statistically speaking that it is almost certain this measure would have majority support from the constituency of any politician.
This is not to say politicians should simply look at polls and vote accordingly. After all, the popular thing is not necessarily the right thing. But how can background checks be a bad idea? We already require them for guns sold at licensed dealerships. All we would be doing is extending required checks to gun sales that occur at gun shows and over the internet. (It doesn’t make sense to have background checks at Wal-Mart but not at a gun show.) Some are saying something to the effect that this would be the first step to a national gun registry (which in turn would be a first step toward taking all our guns away). But I just can’t follow the supposed logic, since it would seem to me that it would be easier to simply pass a law to establish a federal gun registry if that is what the government really wanted to do (and I don’t see where extending background checks would make passing such a law any easier).
One thing is clear, the NRA does oppose the measure. Their opinion obviously counts more than the rest of us because of fear that NRA may try to exert influence through campaign contributions and negative advertising in a race if you dare upset them. The NRA has always made their strategy clear, they will oppose ANY legislation that they think is anti-gun. They are not in the business of judging whether any particular measure is a good idea or not. Now the NRA would say this is because they are really pro-gun rights. Really though, they are pro-gun sales. Even NRA members support expanded background checks. It’s the gun industry that doesn’t because they don’t want anything that could limit sales. (Criminal and mentally-ill money is worth as much as anyone else’s.) That’s who the NRA really represents.
I think the other factor at play here is the continuing GOP strategy of making government as ineffective as possible, particularly while a Democrat is President, so that a party that takes the position of opposing government can come out marginally ahead. Taking the position that government can’t solve problems works out better if you make sure government can’t solve problems. Really it’s easy to see right now, if Obama is for it, the GOP is against it as a matter of strategy.
If you can’t get Congress to act after an elementary school shooting on a measure with 85% public support, then NOTHING is going to get them to act right now. The only course of action is to make it clear that inaction costs people elections by actually voting people out. Unless that happens, we may as well get used to the idea that the current gun laws are what they are and we are going to have to live with them.