We are about to find out whether a civilized society can sensibly deal with a culture that, in the aftermath of the slaughter of 20 innocent schoolchildren and six staff members, sent thousands of citizens scurrying out to purchase the kind of battlefield weapon used in the killings. Despite such insanity, can Congress find some way to mute the sound of rapid-fire mayhem?
The National Rifle Association, the chief lobbying organization for the industry and its adherents, claims that since the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., its membership of 4.5 million has swollen by more than 100,000. If true, it convincingly makes the case that this tragedy and the resulting fear of anti-gun action was perhaps the NRA’s greatest recruiting tool.
That is not lost on Congress, despite a recent Washington Post-ABC poll indicating that a majority of Americans now support at least a moderate program to control the sale and dissemination of some weapons, including the amount of ammunition they dispense in expanded clips. They want anyone buying a firearm — including at gun shows — to undergo a background check. They want greater cooperation in sharing data and information about potentially dangerous individuals, particularly those who have recorded signs of mental instability. They also want more budgetary support for federal agencies — such as the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — to modernize data collection, deal with persistent criminal gun-trafficking and impose stiff penalties for obvious straw purchases.
In other words, most Americans want to restore some common sense to an arena that has had precious little of it in the last four decades. President Barack Obama is betting heavily on their support to convince long-recalcitrant legislators to put aside political considerations and adopt his program. It’s a long shot and he knows it. The NRA and its absolutist allies want none of this: Guns, they apparently truly believe, are not the cause of our violence.