Noteworthy among the responses to the movie theatre massacre in Colorado was that of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a strong advocate of gun control. He was reacting to the words of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Both gentlemen expressed deep sorrow. Neither advocated measures to address their country’s sick gun culture.
“Soothing words are nice,” Mr. Bloomberg said, “but maybe it’s time that the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they are going to do about it.”
He had a point, of course. It would have been good if one of the contenders had mentioned that the country does have a bit of a problem on its hands: 30,000 gun deaths a year from about 300,000 gun-related assaults; a gun in 47 per cent of American households; assault weapons available at every pop stand; Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood and so on.
But really, who was Mr. Bloomberg trying to kid? Did the mayor, who doesn’t have to worry about rural votes, really think Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney would risk the wrath of the National Rifle Association just months before election day. If Mr. Bloomberg were running for president, does anyone think he would be standing up to the gun lobby?
Here is the trendline: In 1959, Gallup asked Americans whether there should be a law banning the possession of handguns except by police and other authorized persons; 60 per cent said yes. In 2011, 26 per cent replied in the affirmative.
Instructive about the reaction to the latest slaughter is just how firmly the pro-gun forces are in control. The attitude is not suggestive of urgency, but resignation. There is every sign that the battle has been lost – that the country has surrendered to the power of the NRA.
Logically, one would think the string of massacres beginning with Columbine would produce a backlash that said enough is enough; that would move public opinion; that would have politicians rushing to the fore with radical remedies. That’s the way it usually works. Calamities create a groundswell for action.
Not so. Instead, it’s much the opposite. With each horror, there is less call for legislative action. The Neanderthal Rifle Association has politicians scared to death that its hordes will descend on their constituencies and have them turfed out.
In 1993, a mass shooting at a San Francisco law firm galvanized anti-gun forces, helping make possible a ban on assault weapons (it has since expired). But little was done after Columbine in 1999. After Virginia Tech, where 32 people were killed, there were only modest measures to improve background checks on gun purchasers. As the scale of the gun violence escalates, politicians like Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney have softened their once-tougher stances. Mr. Obama can barely bring himself to push for a renewed assault weapons ban, such is his fear of the gun-nut lobby.
Bill Schneider, the former CNN public opinion analyst, says one reason the public is more accepting of NRA propaganda is that Democrats have stopped talking about the gun issue. They won’t make the case. In 1994, Bill Clinton’s Democrats passed an assault weapons ban, then got battered in the midterm elections. Al Gore’s gun-control rhetoric in 2000 may have cost him that election. Then came 9/11. Everyone’s security fears heightened. For the gun lobby, it was the greatest boon imaginable.
On this side of the border, we should be wary of moral posturing. Not only has our government gleefully scrapped the long-gun registry – much to the dismay of our policing agencies – but it is even eliminating the registry base.
In the gun culture category, however, there is no modernized country that comes anywhere near the plight of the United States. It is under the thumb, now and with no end imaginable, of a medieval propaganda machine.