Weekend Reads Why American gun laws are likely to get looser, not tighter, even after Las Vegas: Analysis

20:10  07 october  2017
20:10  07 october  2017 Source:   Toronto Star

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WASHINGTON—Jennifer Longdon was doing an interview about the mass shooting in Las Vegas when she got a text message. The first delay came after a shooter attacked party congressmen on a baseball field in nearby Virginia — which, tellingly, prompted some to talk about loosening gun laws

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Four people were killed in a shooting Thursday morning in Casa Grande, Ariz. The shooting generated almost no coverage outside of Arizona. © Oscar Perez/Pinal Central Four people were killed in a shooting Thursday morning in Casa Grande, Ariz. The shooting generated almost no coverage outside of Arizona.

WASHINGTON—Jennifer Longdon was doing an interview about the mass shooting in Las Vegas when she got a text message.

“Wait a second,” she said, pausing to see what it said.

It said there had been another one.

“Multiple shooting in Casa Grande this morning,” Longdon read aloud. “Four dead.”

The quadruple murder had happened in a home 45 minutes away from her Phoenix office. An act of domestic violence, the local police thought.

And so the massacre generated almost no media coverage outside of Arizona.

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This was, after all, the regular kind of gun violence, the kind accepted as a routine, unfixable part of American life.

The kind that had paralyzed her.

Longdon, a gun-control activist and now Democratic candidate for the Arizona state legislature, was shot in 2004 by a stranger burning with road rage.

So forgive her if she is not excited by the cautious push by some congressional Republicans this week to ban bump stocks, the devices used by the Las Vegas killer to allow semi-automatic guns to fire as if they are fully automatic.

“That’s like saying, ‘Here we are in the middle of a hurricane and we’re going to fix this one leaky roof,’” she said. “Yes, I suppose that’s progress in that one particular area. But is substantive progress overall? I don’t think so.”

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The talk of restricting or prohibiting bump stocks was the first time in years that something that could be described as gun control had gained even the tentative support of senior Republicans in Washington. Even the National Rifle Association, America’s top gun lobby group, said it would support some unspecified sort of new regulation of the devices.

But that’s it.

Aside from a possible move on bump stocks, accessories that are little-known even to many gun owners, the Republicans who control Congress are almost certain to take no action in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. President Donald Trump, who just five years ago applauded Barack Obama’s call for stricter gun control after the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, now presents himself as an unwavering champion of the constitutional right to bear arms.

As long as Republicans control Congress and the presidency, nothing at all could prompt the federal government to pass significant laws to restrict guns, said Robert Spitzer, a professor and chair of political science at SUNY Cortland who has written five books on gun policy.

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“The answer’s just no,” Spitzer said. “They can’t be bothered. They don’t want to disturb the gun rights coalition.”

Liberals’ post-massacre fury tends to focus on the recalcitrance of Republicans in Congress. The aggressiveness of Republicans in state governments is equally consequential. At state houses around the country, Republicans are not only succeeding in holding off restrictions but introducing a bevy of new measures to ease gun laws.

This year, for example, Missouri Republicans allowed people to carry guns without obtaining a permit. Georgia Republicans allowed permit-holders to carry on college campuses. Ohio Republicans allowed gun-license holders to carry their guns at daycares that don’t put up No Guns signs and to store their guns in their cars on school property.

Prior to the Las Vegas shooting, House Republicans had been pushing a bill to make it easier to buy gun silencers. They have now delayed that effort a second time. The first delay came after a shooter attacked party congressmen on a baseball field in nearby Virginia — which, tellingly, prompted some to talk about loosening gun laws, for self-defence.

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There are also states where gun laws have been tightened since the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn. Even Republican-led states have implemented modest restrictions.

As South Carolina governor, Trump’s current UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, signed a law denying guns to people convicted of domestic violence. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a similar law early this year.

“There is enormous momentum behind gun violence prevention efforts right now, as there has been since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012,” said Laura Cutilletta, legal director for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “Many state legislators have been standing up to the gun lobby for years and will renew their efforts in the wake of the terrible loss of life in Las Vegas.”

Those state legislators, however, currently appear outnumbered. Antipathy to Obama and his policies helped Republicans begin to dominate state governments. They currently have total control of 26 legislatures.

Charles Heller, spokesman for the Arizona Citizens Defense League, a gun rights group, said Arizona has passed “58 positive bills, signed by three governors, over 13 years.” He is pushing for more — such as a law allowing people with gun licenses to bypass metal detectors at government buildings, as at the Texas state capitol, and a law making it legal to brandish a gun against assailants who have not yet caused physical harm.

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There is no gun regulation at all, Heller said, that could do anything to prevent the core problem: “evil.” What would be “far more” effective in reducing mass shootings than any new law on guns, he said, would be media outlets starving shooters of publicity by refusing to publish their names longer than a week after a shooting.

“The reason people are upset about the bump-fire stock is because they totally miss the point,” Heller said. “This isn’t about the equipment. This is about the evil inherent in the act.”

The power of the NRA and like-minded groups is usually attributed to the money they donate to political candidates. That’s only part of the story. What makes them so influential, Spitzer said, is the asymmetry between gun rights supporters and gun control supporters.

Many gun control measures are overwhelmingly popular. The idea of a law requiring a background check for every gun purchase, rather than just some, consistently polls higher than 80 per cent support, a level of consensus enjoyed by few other policies of any kind.

But the people who oppose gun restrictions are often “single-issue” voters, Spitzer said, far more zealous about the issue than the average proponent of gun control. Many Republican politicians feel they cannot afford to anger them.

And only the most sensational of mass murders do so much as jolt the public into a brief conversation — though the overall numbers, built up day by deadly day, remain staggering.

More than 33,000 Americans were killed by guns in 2014 — more than 90 per day. In 2015, the Washington Post found, 23 children were shot every day. Almost two thirds of the gun deaths were suicides, which tend to receive the least attention.

Justin Allen Yates, Jose Martin Aguilera, Connie Carrera, and Crysta Proctor were found dead in the Casa Grande duplex. Police allege they were killed by Proctor’s estranged husband and an accomplice, who were charged with first-degree murder.

This was not the only other multiple murder of the week. Just two hours after the Las Vegas massacre, a 22-year-old woman on medical leave from Navy training, Leah Brown, was killed by an apparent stray bullet fired on a crowded street in Lawrence, Kan. Two men in their 20s, Tre’Mel Dupree Dean and Colwin Henderson, were also killed.

And 32 people were shot, four killed, the same weekend in Chicago. The people wounded included a 13-year-old boy riding his bike.

None of the shootings were thought to involve a bump stock. None of it made an impression outside of the local communities.

Everyday gun violence.

“‘Everyday gun violence,’” Longdon said. ““We throw around the term ‘everyday gun violence’ as if that’s not morally reprehensible.”

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