The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Gun Control Momentum Leaking Away

Is the momentum for new action on gun control slowly leaking away? That seems to be the message of this New York Times piece on Vice President Biden’s task force on gun control, which has tempered its expectation of a renewal of an assault weapon ban as Washington’s gun rights lobby flexes its muscle:

[T]he White House has calculated that a ban on military-style assault weapons will be exceedingly difficult to pass through Congress and is focusing on other measures it deems more politically achievable. . . . Republicans who control the House Judiciary Committee still oppose such limits. . . .

In addition to limits on high-capacity magazines and expanded background checks, Mr. Biden’s group is looking at ways of keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and cracking down on sales that are already illegal. . . .

White House officials say a new ban will be an element of whatever final package is proposed . . . [but] is trying to avoid making its passage the sole definition of success and is emphasizing other new gun rules that could conceivably win bipartisan support and reduce gun deaths.

This isn’t surprising, though it might be disheartening to those gun control activists who thought that Newtown would finally break the NRA’s political power. The problem is that their focus on the NRA has been misplaced; it is the structure of the Senate, in which rural and western states have more power proportionally than their eastern, more urban counterparts, that makes gun legislation so hard to pass.

The Newton shootings, horrific as they were, don’t seem to have moved the legislative balance of power far enough in the gun control direction to result in the comprehensive legislation many hoped to see.  There may be some incremental changes in the law, but Jacksonian America is no more willing to give up what it sees as its right to bear arms than the ACLU is willing to compromise on free speech.

Published on January 11, 2013 7:00 pm