Gun Law Pragmatism

By E. J. Dionne Jr.
Friday, April 20, 2007

Why do we have the same futile argument every time there is a mass killing?

Advocates of gun control try to open a discussion about whether more reasonable weapons statutes might reduce the number of violent deaths. Opponents of gun control shout "No!" Guns don't kill people, people kill people, they say, and anyway, if everybody were carrying weapons, someone would have taken out the murderer and all would have been fine.

And we do nothing.

This is a stupid argument, driven by the stupid politics of gun control in the United States.

In other spheres, we act reasonably when faced with new problems. When Richard Reid showed that nasty things could be done with shoes on airplanes, airport security started examining shoes. When liquids were seen as a potential danger, we regulated the quantity of liquids we could take on flights. We barred people from carrying weapons onto airliners long ago.

If we can act pragmatically in the skies, why can't we be equally practical here on the ground?

In its zeal to defend our inviolable right to bear arms, is the National Rifle Association going to argue for concealed carry on airplanes? If not, won't the organization be violating its core principle that all of us should be free to be armed at all times?

No one pretends that smarter gun laws would prevent all violence. But it's a disgrace that we can't try to learn from tragedies such as this week's Virginia Tech massacre and figure out whether better laws might at least modestly reduce the likelihood of such horrific events happening again.

Our country is a laughingstock on the rest of the planet because of our devotion to unlimited gun rights. On Thursday, an Australian newspaper carried this headline: "America, the gun club."

John Howard, the solidly right-wing Australian prime minister closely allied with President Bush, bragged this week that when a mass killing took place in Australia in 1996, "we took action to limit the availability of guns, and we showed a national resolve that the gun culture that is such a negative in the United States would never become a negative in our country." No doubt the NRA will mount a boycott of Foster's beer.

Any reasonable measures are blocked because most Republicans are opportunists on the gun issue and Democrats have become wimps. Republicans have exploited support from the NRA for years, and Democrats, eyeing rural congressional seats, are petrified of doing anything that offends the gun lobby.

The Politico newspaper, using figures from the Center for Responsive Politics, reported that in the 2006 elections, pro-gun groups gave $962,525 in contributions and groups considered "anti-gun" gave $49,090. Republicans received 166 times as much money from pro-gun groups as from anti-gun groups. Democrats received three times as much from pro-gun as anti-gun groups. Who owns Congress?

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