The gun control debate has evolved into liberal activists talking to liberal activists, liberal columnists writing for liberal newspapers, liberal taking heads talking to other liberals, and all united in the belief that the solution to gun violence in America is taking bad looking guns away from rural rednecks, the very people least likely to commit gun crimes. No wonder the gun control drive seems to be collapsing.
A March CBS News poll shows a ten percent drop in support for new gun laws in the past three months, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) won’t put the assault weapons ban or gun magazines limits into his Senate bill. The thinking now is that the only bill likely to make it to the president’s desk is legislation increasing penalties for illegal gun trafficking.
So what happened? First, the gun debate was almost entirely emotional, not analytical, and aimed at the wrong target, military style semi-automatic assault rifles such as the Bushmaster 223 used in the Sandy Hook school shooting (and which, by the way, is legal in California with proper configuration). A variety of studies have shown that assault rifles account for about three percent of gun crimes. California Attorney General Kamala Harris published a report on gun crimes in 2010 showing that 90 percent of crimes involved handguns, seven percent involved rifles, two percent shotguns. “California Assault Weapons” (both rifles and pistols), were used in only five percent of crimes, according to the Attorney General.
Nevertheless, Congressional Democrats, led by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, have made banning assault rifles the centerpiece of their efforts. But the people who own assault rifles, largely in rural and small town America, use these guns for hunting and target practice. And by going after them gun control quickly became gun confiscation. This made it easy for the National Rifle Association to rally supporters against any and all gun control measures. For a while it looked as though expanded background checks might pass, but that quickly got mired in questions about a national gun registry, and it is now given little chance of passage.
A second mistake was the unwillingness of Democrats to take on their own political base, concentrating instead on good ol’ boy weekend warriors who like to shoot up hillsides, clearly not part of the Democratic base so an easy political target. To keep guns out of the hands of an Adam Lanza would have required involuntary incarceration since he was clearly mentally ill, but Democrats have fought against involuntary commitment of the mentally ill, as we see in California where it is nearly impossible to keep a mentally ill person against his will for more than 72 hours. Lanza was also deeply into violent video games, but stopping them would run up against Hollywood liberals, so that can’t be considered.
Americans know very well what the gun violence problem is, they need only turn on their TVs or pick up their newspapers: it is racial crime, black on black and Latino on Latino. Author and political analyst Juan Williams addressed this last month when he wrote: “Race ought to be an inescapable part of the debate. Gun-related violence and murders are concentrated among blacks and Latinos in big cities. Murders with guns are the No. 1 cause of death for African-American men between the ages of 15 and 34. But talking about race in the context of guns would also mean taking on a subject that can’t be addressed by passing a law: the family-breakdown issues that lead too many minority children to find social status and power in guns.”
Williams went on, “The statistics are staggering. In 2009, for example, the Centers for Disease Control reported that 54 percent of all murders committed, overwhelmingly with guns, are murders of black people. Black people are about 13 percent of the population.” That is certainly evident in Chicago, President Obama’s hometown and ground zero for gun deaths, with more than 447 murders in 2012 alone, most minority on minority gun killings.
So why aren’t we debating this, unfortunately it is not politically correct for Democrats or gun control activists to confront the racial element in gun crime. Republicans certainly do not want to talk about it; they have enough problems with racial and ethnic issues. So the biggest problem in gun violence has become a taboo topic.
Consequently, there is no real political pressure in Congress to pass new gun laws, unlike immigration reform there is no bipartisan movement toward anything very meaningful. A good case can be made to close the gun show loophole on background checks that makes it easier to smuggle illegal guns into the inner city. However, background checks seem to be more bureaucracy than enforcement. The FBI reported 71,000 instances of buyers lying on gun purchase background checks in 2009, but the Justice Department prosecuted only 77 cases, less than one percent.
With such lax enforcement of existing laws, it is hard to create the political pressure for politicians to add new gun laws. The Washington Post quoted a gun control advocate named Matt Bennett as complaining that, “What’s holding them back is pure politics.” Well, he’s right, the House of Representatives will not consider any gun bill until the Senate has acted, and a significant Senate bill now seems very unlikely. Gun control advocates have blown the politics of this issue.