Dec. 18 2013 08:50 AM

Public desire for stricter laws doesn't budge Congress

A Sandy Hook memorial
Photo by Voice of America

U-T San Diego issued an apology on Monday for its careless placement in the Sunday paper of a gunshow coupon next to a story about the latest school shooting in Colorado. There was no apology for the story being placed on Page A7, but we'll take what we can get. 

The snafu was symbolic of the overall gun debate in the United States: Both just make us shake our heads in disbelief and disappointment.

It was a year ago this week, days after 20 wee children were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that we published an editorial that noted there was hope among gun-control advocates that the killing spree was going to be the tragic event that finally spurred Congress to do something.

We shared that hope, arguing that the time had long since come for a renewed ban on military-style assault rifles and high-capacity magazines that allow for dozens of bullets to be fired rapidly without reload, as well as universal background checks with all gun sales, particularly at the type of gun shows advertised in the U-T, which are not currently subject to background checks.

Boy, did we overestimate this Congress' will to do the right thing. At this time last year, even the conservative-leaning Rasmussen poll showed 55 percent of Americans favoring a ban on semi-automatic and assault-type weapons, which just 36 percent opposed. A month later, a Gallup poll had 60 percent of Americans in support of such a ban. Regardless, a proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein to renew an expired assault-weapons ban never even got to a vote.

And in April, when a more targeted proposal to require background checks on sales at gun shows and over the Internet, led by pro-gun Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, went down to defeat in the U.S. Senate—because it fell six votes shy of the 60 needed to break a Republican filibuster—multiple polls showed that a whopping 86 percent of Americans wanted strengthened background checks.

Just this month, a CBS News poll showed that 49 percent of Americans think gun laws should be made stricter, compared with 36 percent who like things the way they are—almost identical to a Gallup poll. An NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll had the number favoring stricter laws at 52 percent.

Why won't Congress act? The culprit widely blamed is the powerful gun lobby. Last week, the Sunlight Foundation reported that, as far as it could glean through public records (which, Sunlight noted, are hampered by loopholes in disclosure laws), pro-gun groups spent $6.2 million on lobbying in 2013, about four times what gun-control groups spent. The silver lining was that the $1.6 million spent by those favoring gun control was a huge increase in spending over the previous year.

Indeed, while legislative inaction on the federal level was shameful and disgusting, strides were made at the state level and in the national battle's trenches. Eight states—California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and New York—enacted meaningful new gun laws. And several new gun-control groups have taken root, such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the Sandy Hook Promise and Americans for Responsible Solutions, which is spearheaded by gun-violence survivor and former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly.

Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, director of social policy and politics at Third Way, a centrist think tank, told Politico last week that the gun-control "infrastructure" wasn't in place a year ago, but it is now. "Now all of us know a heck of a lot more about this," she said. "We won't need to take so much time to figure that out. If there is a tragedy that specifically involves one of the policies we're talking about, we're going to see more swift action."

As we did a year ago, we again urge our readers who can afford it to give generously to groups fighting to strengthen the nation's gun laws; they'll need the help in their battle with the mighty National Rifle Association. We also continue to urge our readers to demand gun-control policies from candidates for public office at all levels of government, for it's the school-board and city-council members who rise to the statehouses and the Congress.

Unlike a year ago, we won't express hope for 2014—we'll just wait and see. 

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