Don’t ex­pect gun de­bate to budge

Pre­vi­ous shoot­ings did lit­tle to al­ter how law­mak­ers view the con­tentious is­sue.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Mark Z. Barabak mark.barabak@la­times.com

WASH­ING­TON — Noth­ing changed af­ter movie­go­ers were slaugh­tered in Aurora. Noth­ing changed af­ter chil­dren were mas­sa­cred in New­town, af­ter wor­shipers were killed in­side a church in Charleston, af­ter of­fice work­ers were mowed down at a hol­i­day party in San Bernardino.

And even though mem­bers of Congress were at­tacked Wed­nes­day by a gun­man on a ball field just out­side the cap­i­tal, noth­ing is likely to change in the Wash­ing­ton de­bate over gun con­trol, save the ad­di­tion of Alexan­dria to the list of blood-soaked post­marks.

The two sides of the de­bate are sim­ply too dug in, the po­lit­i­cal forces too firmly en­trenched, the worldview of op­pos­ing sides so vastly dif­fer­ent it is im­pos­si­ble to see how the gulf nar­rows even slightly, how­ever close to home the lat­est at­tack.

Un­der­scor­ing that no­tion, the one thing both sides shared af­ter the lat­est mass shoot­ing was the ca­pac­ity to look at pre­cisely the same event and see it in a way that but­tressed di­a­met­ri­cally op­pos­ing views.

For those de­mand­ing a crack­down on guns, the at­tack in Vir­ginia showed the dan­ger of pro­mis­cu­ous laws that let a po­lit­i­cal mal­con­tent turn his rage into ac­tions spo­ken through the bar­rel of an as­sault-style ri­fle.

For those op­pos­ing stiffer laws, the fact the car­nage was not far worse tes­ti­fied to an abid­ing view that, in the words of a pop­u­lar adage, the most ef­fec­tive thing to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

“They shot the shooter,” Rep. Joe L. Bar­ton of Texas, one of the GOP law­mak­ers tar­geted dur­ing softball prac­tice, said of the po­lice of­fi­cers who re­turned fire and, ul­ti­mately, killed James T. Hodgkin­son. “The se­cu­rity de­tail saved a lot of lives be­cause they at­tacked the shooter.”

If any­thing, some Repub­li­can law­mak­ers said, the in­ci­dent en­cour­aged them to start pack­ing their own firearm and look for ways to make guns more widely ac­ces­si­ble, not less.

The de­bate over guns and gun con­trol in many ways dis­tills the very essence of pol­i­tics to­day, where op­pos­ing sides don’t sim­ply dif­fer on philo­soph­i­cal or ide­o­log­i­cal grounds but fail to agree on even the ba­sic facts.

It also un­der­scores the power of one of the coun­try’s mightiest spe­cial-in­ter­est groups, the Na­tional Ri­fle Assn., and its hold over Repub­li­can law­mak­ers whose great­est fear is not los­ing an elec­tion to a Demo­crat but, given ger­ry­man­der­ing, a Repub­li­can pri­mary op­po­nent with an even harder-line view on guns.

That is one rea­son Congress has failed to pass a law re­quir­ing uni­ver­sal back­ground checks, even though the over­whelm­ingly ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans ex­press their sup­port. Not­with­stand­ing that fact, the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans don’t vote in in­di­vid­ual GOP pri­maries.

The sway of the NRA and other groups op­pos­ing tougher gun laws is also a func­tion of one of the most fun­da­men­tal tenets of pol­i­tics: in­ten­sity mat­ters far more than raw num­bers.

Sup­port­ers of un­fet­tered gun rights may be “a mi­nor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion but they have a de­gree of loy­alty and emo­tional at­tach­ment to their move­ment that isn’t re­flected on the op­pos­ing side,” said Robert Spitzer, a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science at State Univer­sity of New York at Cort­land.

“It’s only when the mass shoot­ing oc­curs that the pub­lic pays real at­ten­tion,” said Spitzer, who has writ­ten five books on gun pol­icy. “But the sen­ti­ment doesn’t last long. Most peo­ple turn their at­ten­tion back to other things, as does the me­dia, and soon it’s back to busi­ness as usual.”

In­deed, de­spite the emo­tional out­cry that has fol­lowed ev­ery head­line­grab­bing at­tack, Repub­li­cans in Congress have thwarted each ma­jor gun con­trol ef­fort at­tempted in the last sev­eral years. The most re­cent came af­ter the killing last June of 49 peo­ple at a gay night­club in Or­lando, Fla.

With Pres­i­dent Trump in the White House, thanks in no small part to the staunch sup­port of the NRA, Democrats have vir­tu­ally thrown up their hands. As a re­sult, pro-gun con­trol groups have in­creas­ingly turned their ef­forts to the state and lo­cal lev­els, where the po­lit­i­cal forces on ei­ther side are less for­mi­da­ble.

But the di­vide over guns is more then po­lit­i­cal. It is also cul­tural, and rooted in val­ues both sides hold deep and un­shak­able.

“One side sees firearms essen­tially as in­stru­ments of evil,” said Harry Wil­son of Vir­ginia’s Roanoke Univer­sity, who has also writ­ten ex­ten­sively on gun is­sues. “On the other side are peo­ple who as­so­ci­ate them with a sense of free­dom, of in­di­vid­u­al­ism … [and] also the right to self-de­fense.”

Therein lies per­haps the most im­por­tant rea­son the gun de­bate has reached this impasse. It is one thing to forge a po­lit­i­cal agree­ment on a mat­ter that is pli­able and open to ne­go­ti­a­tion. It is an­other to sur­ren­der what some deem a nat­u­ral, in­alien­able right.

With no room for com­pro­mise, even Wed­nes­day’s at­tack di­rectly aimed at Repub­li­can mem­bers of Congress won’t bring about po­lit­i­cal change.

Cur­tis Compton At­lanta Jour­nal-Con­sti­tu­tion

THE DE­BATE over guns un­der­scores the power of one of the mightiest spe­cial­in­ter­est groups, the Na­tional Rif le Assn., and its hold over GOP law­mak­ers.

Alex Bran­don As­so­ci­ated Press

CROSSES for vic­tims of the movie the­ater shoot­ing in Aurora, Colo., in 2012. The ram­page, and oth­ers that fol­lowed, did lit­tle to change the gun de­bate in Congress.

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