Rob Horowitz: Colorado By Itself Won’t Lead to Sensible Gun Control
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Friday night’s killing of 12 people and wounding of more than 50 others by a lone, deranged gunman at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado will not by itself lead to implementation of any sensible steps to regulate and control the use of guns.
The all-too-familiar and seemingly obligatory debate over whether stronger gun laws could have prevented this tragedy played out on the national public affairs shows over the weekend with New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, head of Mayors Against Illegal Gun Violence, emerging as the strongest voice for common sense gun control measures. He sensibly argued that initiatives such as making it more difficult for people with mental illnesses or criminal records to obtain firearms and reinstituting the assault weapons ban restricting the sale of weapons with high capacity magazines -- the kind of gun used by Colorado shooter James Eagan Holmes-- will save lives in a nation plagued by gun violence.
As Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D) asserted over the weekend, one cannot necessarily prevent all of these kinds of tragedies no matter how robust the gun control laws. He pointed out that even if assault weapons were banned, the assailant could have used a different weapon. Still, Bloomberg’s group notes that 34 people are killed by guns every day in America and that is simply too many. Stronger enforcement of existing gun laws, coupled with sensible new measures, will make a dent in this high number of deaths—among the highest in the developed world.
Unfortunately, any progress on a national gun control agenda is likely to remain elusive even in the wake of this tragedy. Over the past 20 years, public opinion has moved steadily towards a pro gun rights position. In a Pew Research Center poll conducted this past April, 49 percent of Americans said it was more important to protect the gun rights of Americans, while 45% said it was more important to control gun ownership. Similarly, Gallup reports a majority of Americans prefer keeping existing gun laws or weakening them over putting in place stricter gun control laws. Contrast this with the early 1990s when nearly four out of five Americans were for stricter gun laws, according to Gallup. Further, horrific and well-publicized tragedies such as this most recent one, or the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2011, usually have only small and temporary impacts on people’s attitudes towards gun control.
This decline in public support for gun control combines with the strong lobbying power of the National Rifle Association (NRA) as a substantial block on the movement of any gun control legislation. Even unquestionably modest measures that do not come even close to challenging the constitutional right to bear arms under the Second Amendment, as it is now more expansively interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, stand little chance of passage.
This tough political climate can only be changed by a persistent, well-funded, long-term public education campaign—the kind of campaign that someone with the resources and credibility of a Michael Bloomberg can mount. Bloomberg will finish his last term as Mayor at the end of the year. He can perform a vital national service by putting all of his talents and energies into the fight for a more sensible and balanced national policy on the issue of guns.
Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.
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