What will it take for the US government to enact tougher gun control laws? Even with the Newtown shootings as impetus, it will be a politically difficult row to hoe.
What does it take? If a congresswoman in a coma isn’t sufficient grounds to reevaluate the role that firearms play in our national life, is a schoolhouse full of dead children? I desperately want to believe that it is, and yet I’m not sure that I do. By this time next week, most of the people who are, today, signing petitions and demanding gun control will have moved on to other things. If you want to understand why the gun debate can occasionally feel rigged, this is the answer: the issue is characterized by a conspicuous asymmetry of fervor. The N.R.A. has only four million members — a number that is probably dwarfed by the segment of the U.S. population that feels uneasy about the unbridled proliferation of firearms. But the pro-gun constituency is ardent and organized, while the gun control crowd is diffuse and easily distracted. In the 2012 election cycle, N.R.A. spending on lobbying outranked spending by gun control groups by a factor of ten to one.
What that means in practice is that in the aftermath of contemporary gun tragedies, we don’t see new gun legislation. What we do see is a spike in gun sales. After the shooting last summer in Aurora, Colorado, gun sales went up. After the Giffords shooting, there was a surge in purchases of the very Glock semiautomatic that wounded her. Certainly, the firearm industry and lobby will confront some bad P.R. in the coming weeks, but they can likely find succor in an uptick in business. Following the Newtown shooting, Larry Pratt, the Executive Director of Gun Owners for America, suggested that these massacres might be avoided in the future, if only more teachers were armed.