Remember when the schoolhouse massacre in Newtown, Conn., was supposed to be the day everything changed? Remember when the massacre of children less than four months ago was going to bring right-thinking people together in a quest for common-sense solutions to gun violence?
That was before a bill intended to regulate gun violence reached Congress. Though the bill is likely to reach the Senate floor Thursday, it has been stripped of many key provisions gun-control advocates had hoped for. Even the watered-down version is not guaranteed to win approval.
The ban on assault weapons? Gone? Limits on high-capacity magazines, like the one used in the massacre in Aurora, Colo.? Unacceptable. A provision for background checks is among the few substantive proposals left in a piece of legislation that could still go down to defeat.
Sadly, it should be no surprise that so much passion has been followed by so little action. We shouldn’t be shocked that the grip of the gun lobby — which has resolutely refused to budge from its absurd opposition to any regulation of firearms, in any form — has continued to hold sway over our elected officials. It’s been this way for decades, and no tragedy breaks their grip for any length of time.
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley is among those surprised by the short memories of so many public officials. Boston has been spared the kind of bloodshed that grips, say, Chicago. But Newtown was in our backyard. Besides, gun violence is a problem here, too.
“I have to say, I really felt we had reached the breaking point in the country,” Conley said Tuesday. “The fact that it was all babies, children, true innocents, I really thought that some of this intense opposition to common-sense provisions would melt away. The fact that we are talking about more compromise on an already gutted bill is pretty much unfathomable.”
As it stands, cities and states are filling the void left by Washington’s paralysis. Colorado, Connecticut, New York, and Maryland have passed stricter gun restrictions since Newtown. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City continues to spend from his vast personal fortune to support candidates who back gun control, in an undisguised bid to counter the resources of the National Rifle Association. Part of Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s legacy will be his collaboration with Bloomberg to reduce the number of guns on the streets.
Even so, it’s obvious that no effort of reducing access to firearms or ammunition is going to come about easily. Even mustering majorities for background checks has been a challenge.
“It’s a simple, common-sense measure that a majority of Americans embrace, and I don’t think there’s any common-sense argument against it,” Conley said. “The opponents of gun control just oppose anything, because they argue that it’s the beginning of a slippery slope. I think that’s a perversion of logic and insult to the victims of Newtown.”
The victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School, 20 children and six adults, have occupied a high profile in the debate, for both sides. When President Obama flew their relatives to Washington on Air Force One to lobby for gun control, some Republicans grumbled. They said the issues being voted on wouldn’t have prevented Newtown.
But that really isn’t the point. The reason we need to rid our streets of weapons that massacre people, and try to keep handguns out of the hands of the unstable, isn’t just because of the carnage of one tragic day.
The reason to pass meaningful gun control legislation is because Americans have a right to be safe from mass violence. And because the vast majority of us don’t believe that any piece of gun control legislation is a threat to the Constitution. A vocal, well-funded, special-interest minority has controlled this issue for far too long.
And they keep winning. But only because the rest of us let them.
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter:@Adrian_Walker.