A week after the Tucson shooting that killed six people and gravely injured Gabrielle Giffords, a bipartisan group is pushing back against the conventional Beltway wisdom that nothing can be done to curb gun violence. Among that group, unsurprisingly, are women who were close to shooting victims, like Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (above) and Lori Haas and Suzanne Grimes. The latter are mothers of individuals who were wounded in the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, which killed 34 people; McCarthy has been a gun-control stalwart since she first ran for Congress in the wake of a 1993 mass shooting on the Long Island Rail Road that wounded 19 and killed six, including her husband.
McCarthy is not asking for anything that would reverse recent Supreme Court decisions that described individual gun ownership as a constitutional right. She and the Virginia Tech survivors are calling for relatively minor changes, such as more funding for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS); the closure of the loophole allowing gun shows to sell weapons outside that already-existing system; and restoring one aspect of the now-expired assault-weapons ban, which prohibited sale of the high-capacity magazines, a lapse that allowed Arizona shooter Jared Loughner to peel off 31 shots before having to reload.
Not that the Arizona shooter needed a gun show to buy his weapon and extra magazines, but the shooting did raise awareness of how much slack there still is in the background-check system, allowing the mentally ill easy access to firearms. Lining up behind the McCarthy bill are members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), which includes a few Republican members willing to brave the wrath of the National Rifle Association, from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to William Currin of Hudson, Ohio.
Those mayors point out–the way Newark Mayor Cory Booker did this week–that easy access to illegal firearms and newly legal ammunition costs 34 lives per day in the United States: a “Virginia Tech every single day.” Meanwhile, Republican Congressman Peter King threw one of the first legislative shots across the bow by proposing guns be illegal within 1,000 feet of a federal employee, just as around schools and churches. All of these proposed restrictions have so far been declared dead in the water, rejected even by Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown. Of course, while most of the mayors in Brown’s state are members of MAIG, Massachusetts is the state in which a jury just exonerated a man who ran a gun show where a child shot himself in the head with an Uzi submachine gun.
Thus is the power of the NRA and similar organizations, such as the huntsman’s group the Safari Club. And by agreeing yesterday to keynote the next Safari Club convention, former Alaska governor and Fox News contributor Sarah Palin has declared that she also opposes any efforts such as McCarthy’s and MAIG.
With substantial economic and political firepower opposing them, McCarthy, Haas, and the mayors face a stark divide: between those who have heard the gunshots and those for whom firearm ownership is a defense against political tyranny. I see why it seems a lost cause: this week saw a surge in sales of Glock handguns, the same brand as that nearly killed Giffords.
The opponents have long since stopped hearing the voices of McCarthy or Haas. Still, we find ourselves affirming McCarthy’s expressed hope that President Obama, who received bipartisan acclaim for his address in Tucson, might “come off the sidelines” on this issue. One might think that if a nation can come together on anything, it might be to ensure that guns are permitted only in the hands of those who’ve proven they can use them safely, and that obtaining combat-level weapons should be more difficult than buying a pack of cigarettes. And that if political capital exists, there are few goals more worthy of its expenditure. We’ll watch for any such mention in the president’s upcoming State of the Union message.
Can the “civil dialogue” we all promised this week include the facts about gun safety? I guess we’ll see.