| What are the prospects for gun con­trol?

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - Dou­glas E. Schoen

SCOTT KEETER Di­rec­tor of sur­vey re­search at the Pew Re­search Cen­ter

The pub­lic opin­ion cli­mate for more reg­u­la­tion of guns is sig­nif­i­cantly chill­ier to­day than it was two or three decades ago. In 1990, 78 per­cent of the pub­lic told a Gallup poll that they felt that the laws cov­er­ing the sale of firearms should be made stricter; in Oc­to­ber of last year, just 44 per­cent said this. A siz­able shift in pub­lic sen­ti­ment has taken place in just the past two years. The per­cent­age of the pub­lic say­ing it’s more im­por­tant to con­trol gun own­er­ship than to pro­tect the rights of Amer­i­cans to own guns dropped from 58 per­cent in April 2008 to just 50 per­cent in a Septem­ber 2010 Pew Re­search Cen­ter poll. There is a very large par­ti­san di­vide on the is­sue, with 70 per­cent of Repub­li­cans but only 30 per­cent of Democrats say­ing it’s more im­por­tant to pro­tect the rights of gun own­ers than to con­trol gun own­er­ship.

In­ci­dents sim­i­lar to the Ari­zona shoot­ings, such as the mur­ders at Columbine High School in 1999 and Vir­ginia Tech in 2007, had no last­ing im­pact on pub­lic at­ti­tudes about the is­sue. And even in years when there was more pub­lic sup­port for gun con­trol than there is now, leg­isla­tive ac­tion on the is­sue of­ten re­sponded more to op­po­nents of gun con­trol. One rea­son may be that rel­a­tively few elected of­fi­cials, es­pe­cially in re­cent years, have spo­ken out strongly in fa­vor of gun con­trol, leav­ing the is­sue to be de­fined mostly by op­po­nents.

PAUL HELMKE Pres­i­dent of the Brady Cam­paign to Pre­vent Gun Vi­o­lence

Too many as­sume that Congress — once again — will re­spond to a ma­jor mass shoot­ing by do­ing noth­ing. But I be­lieve the tragedy of Tuc­son will lead to change.

When gun vi­o­lence be­comes per­sonal — for ex­am­ple, for Ron­ald and Nancy Rea­gan and many of their sup­port­ers af­ter the 1981 as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt — peo­ple ad­just their think­ing. Be­cause last week­end’s tar­get was a mem­ber of Congress, de­bates about pro­tect­ing politi­cians and the Amer­i­can peo­ple can­not be avoided.

This shoot­ing also high­lighted, again, our weak gun laws. Those laws made it le­gal for the gun­man to buy mil­i­tary-style am­mu­ni­tion mag­a­zines hold­ing 30 rounds; to buy the gun ca­pa­ble of fir­ing those bul­lets; and to carry that loaded gun with­out a per­mit. Not un­til the gun­man fired at Gabrielle Gif­fords did he break any law.

This shoot­ing shows also that sen­si­ble laws can re­duce gun vi­o­lence. The toll from Tuc­son would been have min­i­mized had Congress not let the ban on high-ca­pac­ity clips ex­pire in 2004.

Con­sider that in space flight, our re­sponse to a tragedy — the Chal­lenger ex­plo­sion, for ex­am­ple — in­cludes pres­i­den­tial com­mis­sions and con­gres­sional hear­ings. A com­mis­sion and con­gres­sional hear­ings to pre­vent gun vi­o­lence are nec­es­sary now.

THOMAS M. DAVIS III For­mer U.S. rep­re­sen­ta­tive from Vir­ginia; pres­i­dent of the Repub­li­can Main Street Part­ner­ship

Ad­di­tional gun con­trol mea­sures are dead in this Congress. In fact, gun rights ad­vo­cates made im­pres­sive gains in the pre­vi­ous Congress. You can now carry a gun in our na­tional parks with a con­cealed-carry per­mit. You couldn’t do that un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orgeW. Bush (who also fa­vored ex­ten­sion of the as­sault-weapons ban). But a Demo­cratic Congress and Pres­i­dent Obama made it law.

The Demo­cratic Congress wouldn’t even al­low a vote on clos­ing the gun-show loop­hole, al­though it did hold D.C. vot­ing rights hostage to an ef­fort to re­peal the city’s gun-con­trol laws. The NRA re­cip­ro­cated the cour­tesy by en­dors­ing dozens of vul­ner­a­ble ru­ral Democrats for re­elec­tion. (Many of them lost any­way, dis­cov­er­ing that vot­ers found the econ­omy a far more im­por­tant is­sue.) The NRA has long been a sta­ple of the Repub­li­can coali­tion in Congress, and it now has strong ten­ta­cles grip­ping ru­ral mem­bers of both par­ties. With the GOP con­trol­ling the House and gun rights ad­vo­cate Harry Reid lead­ing Se­nate Democrats, ad­di­tional gun leg­is­la­tion is a non-starter.

DAN SCH­NUR Di­rec­tor of the Uni­ver­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s Un­ruh In­sti­tute of Pol­i­tics; com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for John McCain’s 2000 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign

Pres­i­dent Obama was wise enough to frame his re­marks in Ari­zona in the per­sonal rather than the po­lit­i­cal. He knew that most Amer­i­cans were griev­ing for rea­sons that had noth­ing to do with pub­lic pol­icy, so he steered clear of any ex­plicit dis­cus­sion of deficit re­duc­tion or ed­u­ca­tion re­form, and he avoided any men­tion of guns. By talk­ing in broader terms about ci­vil­ity and con­cil­i­a­tion, how­ever, the pres­i­dent did lay the ground­work for fur­ther co­op­er­a­tion with con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans in the months ahead. But that co­op­er­a­tion is most likely to oc­cur on mat­ters on which there is some ide­o­log­i­cal over­lap, like trade or im­mi­gra­tion or en­ergy. Gun con­trol and own­er­ship did not fit in that cat­e­gory be­fore last week­end’s events. They are just as un­likely to pro­vide con­sen­sus to­day.

Sim­i­lar pres­i­den­tial ad­dresses, whether Ron­ald Rea­gan’s trib­ute to the crew of the Chal­lenger space shut­tle or Bill Clin­ton’s me­mo­rial for the vic­tims of the Ok­la­homa City bomb­ing, did not di­rectly al­ter the tra­jec­tory of pub­lic pol­icy de­bate. But they pro­vided an ex­panded win­dow of op­por­tu­nity for those pres­i­dents to talk to — and re­new their re­la­tion­ship with — the Amer­i­can peo­ple. Obama rec­og­nized that his ex­panded win­dow is best used to set the stage for progress on is­sues that he has al­ready cho­sen to pri­or­i­tize, rather than as a rea­son to be­gin a con­ver­sa­tion on guns that has never ap­peared to hold much in­ter­est for him.


Demo­cratic rep­re­sen­ta­tive from New York

As the ini­tial shock of last week­end’s hor­rific shoot­ing spree sub­sides, I’m get­ting asked a lot about the prospects of my leg­is­la­tion to re­strict ac­cess to high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines like those used in Ari­zona.

I am driven ev­ery day by the knowl­edge that I have a few pow­er­ful forces on my side: his­tor­i­cal prece­dent, com­mon sense and col­leagues in Congress who un­der­stand the tragic con­se­quences that can re­sult from ex­ces­sively lethal weaponry in the wrong hands.

High-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines like those used to in­jure my col­league Gabrielle Gif­fords aren’t needed for tar­get shoot­ing or hunt­ing. They are used to kill or in­jure as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble in as short a time as pos­si­ble.

In 1994, be­fore I was elected to of­fice, I worked with ad­vo­cates and mem­bers of Congress from both par­ties to pass com­pre­hen­sive leg­is­la­tion re­strict­ing ac­cess to the most lethal kinds of hard­ware, in­clud­ing the high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines I hope to out­law with leg­is­la­tion I am in­tro­duc­ing this week. My cur­rent pro­posal is just one small part of the prior as­sault-weapons ban, which was the law of the land un­til 2004. We came to­gether as a nation for this com­mon­sense mea­sure be­fore, and with no other is­sues be­ing ad­dressed by the leg­is­la­tion, we can come to­gether again to sup­port it now.


Repub­li­can sen­a­tor from Ne­vada

The re­cent shoot­ings in Ari­zona were a na­tional tragedy and the acts of a lone gun­man. Al­le­ga­tions have been made that they were the re­sult of lax gun laws and height­ened po­lit­i­cal rhetoric. Nei­ther is the case.

Un­for­tu­nately, there will be knee-jerk re­ac­tions from law­mak­ers in­Wash­ing­ton to make gun laws even more op­pres­sive. Let me be very clear: Gun laws were not the rea­son that a so­cially iso­lated in­di­vid­ual, an an­ar­chist, chose to open fire on an elected of­fi­cial, her con­stituents and a fed­eral judge. And chang­ing the gun laws will not pre­vent such a tragedy in the fu­ture. Con­sider an ex­am­ple that may help change the di­a­logue on this is­sue.

The District of Columbia is home to the nation’s most re­stric­tive gun con­trol mea­sures. Logic would sug­gest that this city must be the safest place in the coun­try. But the facts do not sup­port this con­clu­sion. Gun vi­o­lence in the District was con­sis­tently among the high­est in the nation through­out the 30 years that the city banned hand­guns.

A crim­i­nal or a mad­man such as the Tuc­son shooter will use other means to pur­chase hand­guns; in­Wash­ing­ton, crim­i­nals used il­le­gal guns pur­chased on the black mar­ket. Re­gard­ing the D.C. law, the Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice stated that the hand­gun ban was a “mis­er­able fail­ure by any es­ti­ma­tion.” I cer­tainly hope that Congress will not feel mo­ti­vated to cre­ate more mis­er­able fail­ures across the coun­try with tougher gun laws.

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