WASHINGTON, D.C. - Mr. Bloomberg, I’m wondering if you are a sucker for spending millions to change Americans' minds about guns and push through stricter guns laws. My colleague Dick Meyer might not have any doubts about that. He wrote eloquently about the weekend carnage in Chicago that left 82 people wounded and 16 dead -- and the lack of shock or outrage, much less a ripple, expressed in most of the nation. Truth is, Chicago is only the latest example of how we are numb to gun violence -- and either indifferent to guns as an issue or infatuated with owning them.
You made news this week by announcing a new strategy for your Everytown for Gun Safety group. Everytown is asking all Senate and House incumbents and candidates to complete a 10-part questionnaire stating publicly where they stand on issues such as expanding background checks for gun buyers, limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines and toughening gun-trafficking statutes. It’s a trick other organizations have used, from the National Right to Life, to, well, the National Rifle Association.
Writer Anne Marie Cox warns that you may be throwing your money at an audience that doesn’t really care much about guns, at least not that much when it comes to the ballot box. “Americans are OK with guns,” Cox writes. “They don’t like guns in the hands of mad men and criminals, or shoved in their faces in restaurants and shopping centers, but they’re OK with guns.”
National polling consistently shows this disconnect.
Less than a year after the Newtown, Conn., school shootings, Gallup found that almost half of Americans believe the laws covering the sale of firearms should be strengthened and half say they should stay the same or be less strict. The bottom line, according to Gallup:
“Aside from any personal or political reasons they may have for blocking gun control, public demand for it has waned. Numerous mass shootings have occurred in the U.S. in the past decade. However, during this time, aside from the passing surge of support for stricter gun laws after the Newtown shootings, Americans' support for gun control has tapered.”
The folks over at the Pew Research Center found pretty much the same results in its February 2013 survey.
“The public’s attitudes toward gun control have shown only modest change in the wake of the deadly shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut,” the survey concluded. “Currently, 48% say it is more important to control gun ownership, while 49% say it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns.”
About the only thing that has changed in the past 20 years in American opinion about guns is that the gap between the Republicans and the Democrats has widened. In a 1993 Gallup survey, 61 percent of Republicans agreed that stricter gun laws would reduce the number of gun deaths caused by accidents and suicides. In the Pew survey from 2013, which asks only about accidental gun deaths, only 32 percent of Republicans agree.
The United States consistently rules the world on gun ownership, although Honduras, El Salvador and Jamaica hold the prize for highest gun murder-rate. And while gun deaths in the United States were on the decline for four years, the latest statistics from the FBI show that the number of murders by firearm increased in 2012. Handgun murders are up – shotgun and rifle deaths are still falling.
Mr. Bloomberg, you and other gun control advocates face a Sisyphean challenge – trying to convince a pretty entrenched public to make gun violence an issue they’ll vote on in the fall election. And politicians definitely recognize this reality. Only hours after Everytown pitched its new campaign, legislation to promote shooting on public land and relax ammunition regulations moved forward in the Senate.
While gun control legislation has been on hold since last April, the “sportsmen’s act” advanced in the Senate on Monday night 82 to 12, with support from some Democrats facing stiff GOP competition this fall. And now, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has drafted an amendment to the bill that would make it easier for veterans with mental illness to have access to firearms.
Both sides of the gun debate seem to compartmentalize the issue of guns. Law-abiding gun owners are not the problem, we just need to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those who use campuses and shopping malls as target practice. All of that may be true, but at the end of the day, the problem is that there are just so many guns out there and they are so accessible. Keep in mind that the leading cause of firearms death in the United States is suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control. There are so many guns in the United States, and they are so easy to access, that people are killing themselves and others sometimes on an impulse or when an argument gets heated – and there’s a gun within reach.
And guns, writes Anne Marie Cox , are just death waiting to happen.
“Guns have one purpose: to kill things. They are no more neutral than a poison. They can be used for good or ill, but the reason they exist is to hurt someone. In the "bad guy with a gun" versus a "good guy with a gun" scenario, the problem isn't who's bad and who's good, it's that there is a gun involved, period. Introduce a gun into a social equation and you immediately increase the odds of someone getting injured or killed – whether by his own hand, by accident, or by another member of the household.”
As a nation, we’ve grown numb to gun violence and it is going to take a lot more than bad guys with guns shooting up a city or an elementary school or even your millions, Mr. Bloomberg, to change that. We love our guns, deeply and profoundly, and we are not ready to break up with them.
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