It’s been almost a month since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and lawmakers are riding the tide of public outrage to get something done on gun safety. Since President Obama put Vice President Biden in charge of the commission to investigate gun violence and possible solutions, Biden has met with several groups and individuals. Together, they just might be able to make headway on this deadly issue.
One group at the forefront of the renewed enthusiasm to pass some kind of gun control has been Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Michael Bloomberg’s coalition of mayors who have been outspoken on this topic. The organization, over 750 strong, has sent proposals to Washington that include closing the gun show loophole, limiting military weapons and high-capacity clips as well as making gun trafficking a federal crime. All of these have the support of a majority of Americans.Their spokesman, Thomas Menino, says that they have been assured that there will be legislation for President Obama to sign by the end of January.
“We had been led to believe their report would come by end of January, but we’re hearing they may want to have something out by January 15, even quicker than expected,” Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, told Talking Points Memo.
While Biden works outside Congress, Democrats in that body have been busy with their own plans. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) has filled his task force on gun violence prevention with twelve more members, including Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), the House’s leading gun control advocate. The group plans to hold public hearings on the issue and release its recommendation in February. Building public support is crucial to moving forward as Republicans in the House will surely try to scuttle any bills dealing with gun control. But there is actually one Republican we might have in our camp: Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said on Morning Joe recently that he “didn’t know why people need assault weapons.” In fact, some conservatives are worried about being the victims of what they call “hate speech.” The fact that the simple discussion of gun control isn’t hate speech doesn’t seem to faze them. How this might translate to any kind of action remains to be seen.
That’s where survivors of gun violence come in. When Thompson’s group opens its hearings, one of the first people to testify will be former Representative Gabby Giffords. Ms. Giffords has been meeting with Bloomberg’s group, as well as acting as a symbol of gun violence and the damage it does. Her recent visit to Newtown was big news. Maybe she convinced a few survivors and/or their families to testify as well. They could be very effective voices.
The NRA will most assuredly not give an inch without fighting, but recent polls show that their influence is not as strong as it was perceived to be. Ezra Klein, in his terrific piece about gun control facts, points out a few important things to know about the issue. He cites a CNN/ORC poll from August that shows specific policies, such as the ones proposed by Mayors Against Illegal guns, have high favorability ratings. The only thing that the majority oppose is taking guns away, period. Another interesting poll says that shootings don’t substantially affect views on gun control. This was done before Newtown and I’m pretty sure if it were to be taken again today, the results would be very different.
The idea that talking about gun control laws after a shooting is “politicizing the issue” has gone by the wayside as well. Even though there have been at least 61 mass shootings since 1982, there has been very little action to stem them. In most of these shootings the weapons were obtained legally. This points to a problem in the actual laws rather than in people getting guns illegally. When it’s legal to buy a weapon online – with hundreds of rounds of ammo to go with it – the problem is in the way one can purchase a gun, not the actual existence of the weapon.
Then there is the gun show loophole. Statistics tell us that gun shows are the second leading source of guns that are used in crimes here in the United States. Background checks are not required and weapons are often obtained for crimes through the shows, according to the ATF, with 46% of the shows investigated found to have sold guns to convicted felons. The anonymity afforded buyers by these gun shows is another drawing point. Oh sure, there are the “voluntary” background checks but, come on, as if a convicted felon or someone contemplating murder would be truthful on those. There really is no excuse for not having background checks at gun shows, not with the ease with which dealers can now access the Internet to run them. Mandatory background checks are on the list of proposals from several groups that VP Biden has been meeting with. And it’s also popular with the public: 87% of Americans favor mandatory background checks. That includes 83% of gun owners.
Another fascinating bit of information is that gun ownership, despite the flag-waving fear-mongering by the NRA, has actually decreased. Not only decreased, but it’s at all-time low according to Patrick Egan, who writes that:
“Long-term trends suggest that we are in fact currently experiencing a waning culture of guns and violence in the United States.“
One last thing to remember – states with stricter gun control laws have fewer gun deaths. It’s pretty simple math that economist Richard Florida added up last year. He also found that higher populations, stress, mental illness or more immigrants were not factors that increased gun violence. He offers the caveat that correlation doesn’t necessarily equate causation but the numbers are certainly intriguing.
All of this information will need to be taken into account as those who work on gun safety laws try to make headway on this disturbing problem. From what we are hearing, they are doing just that. January 15th may be an overly optimistic date but wouldn’t it be great to have common sense win in Washington this early in the new year? As for me, I will be watching closely.
T. Steelman is a life-long Liberal. She has been writing online about politics since 2007. She lives in Western Washington with her husband, daughter, 2 cats and a small herd of alpacas. How can anybody be enlightened? Truth is, after all, so poorly lit…