Wonkbook: After Newtown, will gun control actually happen?

December 17, 2012

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Wonkbook's Number of the Day: $1 million. Speaker of the House John Boehner has opened the door to increases in marginal tax rates on incomes above $1 million. The bid, which comes with the fiscal cliff only a few weeks off, may breathe new life into negotiations in Washington. He also offered $1 trillion in total tax revenues, up from $800 billion in a prior offer. For more, see Wonkbook's special section on the fiscal cliff.

Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: States are spending more on Medicaid, less on education.

Today in Wonkbook: the Newtown, Conn., shooting and the gun-control policy debate; the fiscal cliff; the economy; and the 2012 shuffle.

Top story: Has the Newtown, Conn., shooting revived gun control?

Obama speaks in Newtown, Conn., as new details emerge about shootings. "President Obama made his fourth sorrowful trip to a shocked and grieving community on Sunday, two days after a gunman stormed into an elementary school here and gunned down 20 first-graders and six adults...The president was the last speaker in an interfaith vigil at Newtown High School. Of the massacre, he said, 'We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end.'" Steve Vogel, David Nakamura and David A. Fahrenthold in The Washington Post.

Read: The full transcript of President Obama's speech.

Watch: Video of the President's speech.

More on the President's speech. "Speaking in Aurora, Colorado just days after a gunman opened fire in a movie theater this summer, Obama was somber, subdued -- and decidedly apolitical...It was a very different Obama who took the stage at the Newtown memorial Sunday, a president not just saddened by the tragedy but fed up with the lack of forward movement in hopes of preventing the next one." Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.

@peterbakernyt: Obama's no-excuse-for-inaction speech presumably means he plans a more sustained gun control push or will have his words held against him.

Long reads: The best long reads on gun violence and gun policy.

@TobinCommentary: Obama didn't say gun control at Newtown memorial but left little doubt he will use incident to push legislation.

Are the Newtown, Conn., killings a tipping point? "While it’s absolutely true that previous episodes of horrific gun violence have tended not to move the needle on public opinion relating to guns and gun control, the optics of the Connecticut shootings have led some to suggest that a shift is coming. The deaths of 20 children could affect the public consciousness in a way that past incidents have not." Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.

@ezraklein: Gun control may not be the right answer to mass shootings. But not talking about what to do is definitely the wrong answer.

What would 'meaningful action' on gun control look like? "Advocacy groups and think tanks have worked through a number of proposals they think could reduce gun violence in the United States. Here are a few that have received the most serious consideration." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

@TPCarney: My twitter feed: We need gun control! We don't need gun control! We need gun control! Gun control! Why is nobody talking about gun control?

Why are mass shootings becoming more common? "[T]hese sorts of headlines are also becoming gut-wrenchingly familiar. Of the 12 deadliest shootings in U.S. history, six have taken place since 2007...For much of the 20th century there were, on average, a handful of mass killings per decade. But that number spiked in 1980, and kept rising thereafter. In the United States, there have now been at least 62 mass shootings in the past three decades, with 24 in the last seven years alone. This has happened even as the nation’s overall violent crime and homicide rates have been dropping." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Wonkblog explains: The 6 craziest state gun laws.

Sen. Feinstein wants an assault-weapons ban. "Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) vowed Sunday to introduce legislation to ban assault weapons at the start of the next Congress...In a separate interview on Sunday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he too was was optimistic about the prospect of passing a gun control measure." Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

Wonkblog explains: 12 facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States.

...But Washington remains basically mum on gun control. "They’ve watched mass shootings of college kids and schoolchildren, issued countless statements of sympathy and lived through a colleague taking a bullet to the brain, but Friday’s rampage in Newtown, Conn., doesn’t appear to have moved many lawmakers any closer to writing new gun laws. Instead, only the fiercest gun-control advocates in the House and Senate are urging change -- many looking to President Barack Obama to build public support for new laws so that it becomes more politically risky for Republicans and pro-gun Democrats to stand in their way. It’s a sign that they know they can’t get anything done on their own." Jonathan Allen in Politico.

@JeffDSachs: Opponents of gun control said he had semi-automatic pistols only (as if that's an answer). In fact he killed with a semi-automatic rifle.

Why, without political action, the gun-control agenda will wither again. "This phenomenon -- the media’s intense interest in, and subsequent boredom with, a public policy problem -- is known as the 'issue-attention cycle.' A dramatic event, such as a shooting, brings an issue to the media’s attention, prompts an avalanche of news, and then an inevitable decline in coverage. Coverage of natural disasters is a particularly good example. Unless new events continue to draw journalists’ attention, they move on to other, fresher stories. The public then turns its concerns elsewhere, too." Danny Hayes in The Washington Post.

@RonBrownstein: #Gun control won't happen unless advocates make it unsustainable for Republicans now in suburban districts like those to continue opposing

Meet the Republican who thinks more guns means less gun violence. "Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) suggested Sunday that greater access to guns could help prevent mass killings akin to the deadly shooting at a Connecticut school Friday." Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

@RonBrownstein: Red State Dems have always fought #gun control. It passed w/Clinton b/c blue state r's felt need to support it. That still key to any push.

...But others are trying to give pro-gun-control Republicans political cover. "Mark DeMoss, the Christian conservative public relations executive, told POLITICO that placing some limits on guns wouldn’t have to conflict with constitutional liberties, as many on the right contend." Alexander Burns in Politico.

@thegarance: Difference between this and other recent mass shootings? It's in the NE, where Dems rule & people are more open to gun control.

Bloomberg wants to push the center toward gun control. "Bloomberg, an outspoken gun control advocate who launched a super PAC earlier this year that supported candidates who had advocated for gun control, said he believes Obama could successfully spearhead legislation in Congress...Bloomberg offered policy recommendations for the president on Sunday, including enforcing existing laws more aggressively." Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

Gun-rights advocates are under criticism following Newtown, Conn., shooting. "[A]s the call for new gun-control laws increases, gun owners say they also feel under attack. These are the people who see guns as an answer to the problem of violence, not the problem itself. They worry that their Second Amendment rights will be taken away. Challenged by those who see any gun as an instrument of destruction, they defend their belief that guns are beneficial. Harder still is to explain the allure of weapons like the .223-caliber Bushmaster, a military-style semiautomatic rifle that a some want banned." Fredrick Kunkle in The Washington Post.

What Obama said about gun control in the 2012 campaign. "[N]either President Obama nor Mitt Romney spent much time talking about how they might deal with the spate of violent acts being committed with guns in the U.S...But, in the second presidential debate, President Obama did get a question about guns -- specifically about his pledge during the 2008 Democratic National Convention to keep AK-47s out of the hands of criminals, and what he had done to make good on that promise." Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.

Wonkblog explains: A history of the Second Amendment in two paintings.

DIONNE: Now is the time for meaningful gun control. "We should mourn, but we should be angry. The horror in Newtown, Conn., should shake us out of the cowardice, the fear, the evasion and the opportunism that prevents our political system from acting to curb gun violence. How often must we note that no other developed country has such massacres on a regular basis because no other comparable nation allows such easy access to guns?" E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post.

SACHS: Gun control after Newtown. "The United States seems to reel from one mass gun killing to another -- roughly one a month this year alone. Easy access to guns in the US leads to horrific murder rates relative to other highly educated and wealthy societies. America needs to find a better way...[F]reedom in the twenty-first century does not depend on unregulated gun ownership. Indeed, America’s gun culture is a threat to freedom, after the murder of a president, senator, and other public leaders, and countless assassination attempts against public officials over recent decades." Jeffrey D. Sachs in Project Syndicate.

COOKE: The conservative response to Newtown. "Gun control advocates may talk of national soul searching and dialogue, but in truth that already exists; what they mean is that they’d like to win for a change...The mind of a man so ill or depraved that he is capable of an atrocity such as we saw at Newtown is not one that can be constrained by law...To believe that yesterday’s crime could have been prevented, you have to presume either that a man willing to go to such grievous lengths could have been deterred from doing so by stronger laws, or that those stronger laws could rid America of privately available guns completely...To realize that there is very little than one could have done to stop yesterday’s abomination is to understand that we are sometimes powerless in the face of evil, however much we shout about it." Charles C. W. Cooke in National Review Online.

MUKHERJEE: Misplaced priorities. "Details about Friday’s horrific shooting spree at a Connecticut elementary school are still emerging, and it remains unknown whether the suspected shooter suffered from underlying mental health issues. But the fact remains: in America, it’s currently easier for a poor person to get a gun than it is for them to get treatment for mental health issues." Sy Mukherjee in ThinkProgress.

LEIDER: Breaking the gun-control stalemate. "In addition to guns, the common denominator in most of these mass shootings has been mental illness. Seung-Hui Cho (Virginia Tech), Jared Lee Loughner (Tucson, Ariz.), James Eagen Holmes (in the Aurora, Colo. theater), and now Adam Lanza all had significant mental health problems. As the country turns its attention to overhauling its health-care delivery system, we must discuss improving access and delivery of mental health care to those who need it. As part of this conversation, we need to update federal firearm laws as they relate to persons with mental illness -- laws that currently are primitive and rooted in stereotypes." Robert Leider in The Wall Street Journal.

COX: When your town is Newtown. "How did Lanza have access to an arsenal of weapons at home? Did his mother seek help for him? If he had changed for the worse, were his peers or neighbors aware? Could they, or we, have done more to involve him in our community? Did the law, and our Constitution, make his massacre easier to carry out? In the end, we may arrive at answers that help make it less likely that tragedies like Newtown's will recur." Rob Cox in The Wall Street Journal.

COHEN: Pennies spent to prevent gun violence. "Why do we spend at least 1,000 times more money protecting ourselves from terrorism than we do protecting ourselves from gun violence?...According to 2008 statistics, compiled by the CDC's National Center for Injury and Violence Prevention and Control and chronicled by the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence, 31,593 people died in America as a result of gun violence. Of those, 12,179 people were murdered. Nearly 3,000 children died as a result of gun violence that year, and another 66,749 people were injured." Andrew Cohen in The Atlantic.

BUMP: Regulate bullets before guns. "[T]here are two things that are needed for a gun to work: the gun and the ammunition. Limiting guns may be hopeless. So why don't we focus on the bullets? Perhaps the best argument in favor of limiting ammunition, though, is this. The mantra of firearms advocates is the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which reads: 'A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.' It doesn't say a single thing about the right to own bullets." Philip Bump in The Atlantic.

How The Onion sees it interlude: 'Right to live life in complete, sustained horror' added to Constitution.

Top op-eds

PEARLSTEIN: A union battle whose time has passed. "When Michigan joined the ranks of 'right-to-work' states last week, I had two seemingly contradictory reactions. The first was that it was a historic turn for the American labor movement. The second was that it was largely irrelevant...This development caps a 75-year campaign by the business community to snuff out the right of workers to bargain collectively." Steven Pearlstein in The Washington Post.

FRANKEL: Why it's time for a nominal-growth target. "Monetary policymakers in some countries should contemplate a shift toward targeting nominal GDP -- a switch that could be phased in gradually in such a way as to preserve credibility with respect to inflation. Indeed, for many advanced economies, in particular, a nominal-GDP target is clearly superior to the status quo." Jeffrey Frankel in Project Syndicate.

KRUGMAN: One trillion dollars? "As you might imagine, I find myself in a lot of discussions about U.S. fiscal policy, and the budget deficit in particular. And there’s one thing I can count on in these discussions: At some point someone will announce, in dire tones, that we have a one trillion dollar deficit...What the Dr. Evil types think, and want you to think, is that the big current deficit is a sign that our fiscal position is completely unsustainable…So it’s important to understand that this is completely wrong." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

Music recommendations interlude: Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata".

Fiscal cliff

Boehner offers a tax increase on incomes over $1M. "A fresh proposal from House Speaker John Boehner to raise tax rates on millionaires marked a breakthrough in stalled budget negotiations with President Barack Obama, suggesting a potential framework for avoiding year-end spending cuts and tax increases known as the fiscal cliff. The proposal, which the speaker offered privately to Mr. Obama Friday, calls for raising $1 trillion in tax revenues over 10 years, up from the $800 billion Mr. Boehner previously proposed, and cutting about $1 trillion from spending." Janet Hook, Carol E. Lee, Damian Paletta in The Wall Street Journal.

...He also offered a one-year delay on the debt ceiling. "House Speaker John A. Boehner has offered to push any fight over the federal debt limit off for a year, a concession that would deprive Republicans of leverage in the budget battle but is breathing new life into stalled talks over the year-end 'fiscal cliff.'" Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane in The Washington Post.

Some tax hikes, spending cuts now seen as inevitable in January. "President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner are continuing their talks, but key officials in both parties now believe that Washington will be unable to avoid some mix of the tax increases and automatic spending cuts mandated next month by the austerity measures known as the 'fiscal cliff.' Senior Democratic and Republican officials say the best-case scenario will be for a less ambitious deal to extend middle-class tax cuts and forestall tax hikes on most Americans." Paul Kane in The Washington Post.

Wonkblog explains: How the ‘fiscal cliff’ will affect your taxes, in one chart.

What the other side of the fiscal cliff looks like. "If President Obama and Congress fail to reach a deal to avoid hundreds of billions of dollars of tax hikes and federal spending cuts, many Americans would feel the pain with less money in their paychecks in the first week of the New Year." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

...And the Republican alternate political universe. "[N]ational numbers actually understate the homogeneity of constituencies that returned a Republican majority to power in the House. Because state legislatures draw most House districts to favor their own majority party, more than 80 percent of those elected to the House won with at least 55 percent of the vote. As a result, the everyday interactions Republicans have with their constituents and colleagues reinforce a lower-tax worldview diametrically opposed to that of their Democratic counterparts -- and out of step with most Americans. The biggest threat to their careers is primary challenges from opponents more conservative than they are." John Harwood in The New York Times.

What are we talking about when we're talking about Medicare changes in the fiscal cliff? "Democrats wary of accepting any entitlement benefits cuts are asking Republicans to show them their plans if they want to make Medicare means-testing a part of a lame-duck fiscal package. GOP leaders have floated the idea of hiking Medicare costs for wealthier beneficiaries -- a proposal President Obama has repeatedly backed -- as a condition of any deal to prevent a slew of tax hikes and spending cuts from taking hold Jan. 1." Mike Lillis in The Hill.

Historical photography interlude: What the New York subway was like in 1970 and 1980.

Economy

The possibility of a 2013 economic boom. "The nascent housing rebound, the natural gas boom, record profit margins, a friendlier credit market for small businesses, along with pent-up demand for autos and other big purchases, could in combination unleash growth and hiring that the economy needs...More robust growth next year — perhaps higher than 3 percent later in the year, according to some of the more optimistic forecasts -- would certainly be a stark reversal from the current sluggish path." Catherine Rampell in The New York Times.

The 2014 federal budget is seeing big delays. "The White House confirmed to POLITICO Sunday that it has deliberately slowed preparations for President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget until it has a better fix on the current talks with Republicans in Congress." David Rogers in Politico.

Strange years in review interlude: 2012 in volcanic activity, in photos.

The 2012 shuffle

Former Treasury Secretary Summers to co-chair economic project at liberal think tank. "Lawrence H. Summers, a former Treasury secretary and White House economic adviser, has agreed to co-chair a new think-tank project aimed at supporting President Obama’s second-term goal of reviving the economy by rebuilding the middle class. The Growth and Competitiveness project will be housed at the progressive Center for American Progress, where Summers will also serve as a 'distinguished senior fellow,' the center plans to announce Monday." Lori Montgomery in The Washington Post.

Looks like Kerry is going to be Secretary of State. "President Obama has decided to nominate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as the next secretary of State, according to news reports. An unidentified source told CNN that a formal announcement could come as early as next week." Kyle Balluck in The Hill.

COHAN: Geithner is likely to replace Bernanke. "Another important position in Washington that stands to be filled early in Obama’s second term -- but isn’t getting a whole lot of attention at the moment -- is the one currently held by Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve. Bernanke’s second, probably final, four-year term ends on Jan. 31, 2014. Obama will have to make the nomination of a new Fed chairman a high priority soon after his Cabinet is assembled. The usual list of highly qualified candidates to replace Bernanke -- including Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury secretary and Harvard University president; Janet Yellen, a current vice chairman of the Fed; and Alan Krueger, the precocious chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers -- misses the person who probably wants it the most and continues to have Obama’s ear on a regular basis: Geithner." William D. Cohan in Bloomberg.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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