Gun Sanity Needs Bipartisanship

Steve Sack, The Minneapolis Star Tribune

WASHINGTON — The first and most important victory for advocates of sensible gun laws would, on almost any other matter, seem trivial. But when it comes to firearms, it’s huge: Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, attention to the issue has not waned and pressure for action has not diminished.

Please don’t dismiss this achievement. Consider that until so many children were gunned down, the National Rifle Association and the gun manufacturers for which it speaks were able to block calls for a legislative response in the wake of one massacre after another.

After the shootings at a Colorado movie theater last summer, politicians were quickly intimidated into reciting bromides that drowned a real debate in blather. Nothing happened.

And nothing happened in January 2011 after the mass shooting at a town meeting in Tucson, Ariz., where Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot in the head. Six people were killed and 13 others, including Giffords, were wounded.

Her gradual recovery has been a miracle of modern medicine and her determination. Now she and Mark Kelly, her astronaut husband, have been moved by the Newtown, Conn., shootings to help lead the nation’s new turn on gun violence. They marked the second anniversary of the Tucson episode to announce the formation of Americans for Responsible Solutions, and minced no words in an op-ed piece in USA Today on Tuesday, criticizing “special interests purporting to represent gun owners but really advancing the interests of an ideological fringe.”

“Weapons designed for the battlefield have a home in our streets,” they wrote. “Criminals and the mentally ill can easily purchase guns by avoiding background checks. Firearm accessories designed for killing at a high rate are legal and widely available.”

Giffords embodies this embrace of a new attitude that one might call “solutionism.” It’s heartening that political leaders from states and districts with long histories of supporting gun rights are now breaking with the gun lobby’s extremism.

It’s also encouraging that Vice President Joe Biden, charged by President Obama with responsibility for proposing a comprehensive approach to the problem, is reportedly going big. He is ready to start with the necessary minimum — a renewal of a more effective assault weapons ban, a ban on high-capacity magazines, and extending background checks on private gun sales. The last really matters, since the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns estimates that perhaps 40 percent of all gun sales are made by unlicensed private dealers.

But Biden is also looking at how to improve enforcement of existing laws. The authorities should not be prevented from collecting the data they need both for intelligent policy and to track illegal guns. Measures to crack down on gun trafficking, along the lines proposed by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer of New York, should thus be included, too.

But there is a political truth that must be faced: Absolutely nothing positive will happen on this issue unless a substantial number of Republicans insist that we act. And before you give up hope, it’s worth remembering that in 1994, 38 House Republicans supported the assault weapons ban on a roll call in May, and 46 supported the crime bill including the ban that eventually passed later in the year.

Yes, the GOP is very different now, more conservative and more dominated by Southern and rural voices. But key Republicans senators, including Mark Kirk, John McCain and Dan Coats, have been willing to back reasonable gun laws in the past. The GOP’s House majority includes 12 members from New York and New Jersey, 13 from Pennsylvania, 44 from the Midwestern states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin, and 20 from the West Coast.

A large share of these Republicans, particularly those from the Northeast, are growing impatient with the extent to which their party’s image is being shaped by the wishes and opinions of its most right-wing members, many of them from one-party districts in the South. Suburban Republicans especially need to declare their independence from viewpoints antithetical to those held by the vast majority of their constituents.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been working hard with such Republicans, but he needs allies. Groups such as No Labels tout the virtues of nonpartisanship. They could demonstrate their effectiveness by joining Bloomberg’s efforts. And Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is enjoying plaudits from those who see him as blazing an independent path. The former prosecutor should be eager to earn them by standing up for tough action on guns.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. (c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group

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Author: E.J. DIONNE, JR., WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST

2 Comments

  1. Actually, after the Giffords assassination attempt, several plans were put in place to effect gun control.

    •Strengthening the national electronic system by collecting new information to make background checks for handgun buyers simpler and faster, leaving an electronic paper trail under a law named for James Brady, Ronald Reagan’s press secretary who was wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on the president.

    •A new reporting requirement that federally licensed gun shops report any person who tries to buy two long-arm weapons near the Mexican border over a five-day period.

    •Tougher sentencing guidelines for straw buyers that Holder’s department pushed through procedural hoops at the U.S. Sentencing Commission earlier this year.

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/a.....usive.html

    All this despite the NRA’s objections.

    Nothing will happen until both the Democratic and Republican members of Congress stand up to the NRA. I’ve not seen any reports on how many members the NRA has, but I’d bet that when compared to membership 20 years ago, it is considerably depleted.

    NRA’s power comes from money infused from the arms industry and using those who have little ability to discriminate between the guarantee of the 2nd amendment to allow weapons needed to defend oneself and the travesty of expanding that guarantee to include military grade weapons under the far-fetched idea that they are needed to prevent a military coup.

    Not much can be done about a lack of discrimination, but some things can be done about arms manufacturers licensed to sell their products in the United States. Let them sell their gruesome products to the military – and control who else they sell them to inside this country.

  2. There is a paranoid faction that will probably never fade into oblivion. It is more prevalent on the right but some on the left still think citizens need to own guns to defend themselves from enemies seen and unseen. It’s ironic really, since all the weapons on the street were allowed to be there because of lack of legislation to regulate them. Now it’s a self fulfilling prophecy. Bad people have guns….good people need to have guns to protect themselves. If it weren’t for the NRA lobbyists and money taking lawmakers, we wouldn’t HAVE this problem.
    Our lawmakers have allowed this situation to become what it is today. Now they are FINALLY trying to correct years of neglect and ignorance. It took 20 innocent children after countless other tragedies to make everyone wake up, but we still have all those weapons on the streets.
    Banning assault weapons, magazines, and having background checks is a VERY late start, but only a start.

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