In the wake of the horrific shooting last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut we’re being told that we need to have a “national conversation” on guns. Apparently, this conversation is long overdue and can no longer be put off as it’s alleged to have been repeatedly postponed in the past. Hogwash.
Call it what you will, “conversation,” “discussion,” “debate,” “argument,” or whatever other word suits you, but the fact is that we have been talking about guns for the last thirty years. We talked about the Brady Bill, the “assault weapons” ban, the numerous court decisions and what we should or could do in the aftermath of every mass shooting that we’ve had to suffer through.
Through all this talk, we had seemed to have reached sort of a national consensus on guns which is why the issue had largely receded from politics. Most Americans wanted to allow law abiding citizens to have guns while also placing some restrictions on that ownership: limits on types of guns, background checks, waiting periods, etc. It was far from a perfect compromise and there were still problems such things as gun show loopholes, but generally it seemed like we had arrived at a position of stasis in the long running battle between the pro and anti gun zealots.
One side said that the answer was guns for everyone. The other said guns for no one (although they often weren’t quite this straightforward when presenting their arguments). It reminds me of the classic Simpson’s campaign bit on abortion with Kane and Kodos:
Guns for all.
Very well, no guns for anyone.
Guns for some, miniature American flags for others.
Now, that unstated consensus on guns might be in danger of collapsing or at least changing. For my money, from a purely political perspective the GOP would be smart to sign on to new gun control restrictions proposed by President Obama assuming that they will be largely symbolic and that most Americans would find them to be reasonable limitations. Given the current climate, it would be politically damaging for Republicans to take an all or nothing stand toward gun control and fight any attempt at further restrictions as if it’s a matter of taking guns from our cold, dead fingers.
On the other hand, it’s interesting to note that many analysts believe that one of President Obama’s key second term goals is to weaken the GOP and retake the House in 2014. Given the way the House is currently districted and politically divided, it’s hard to imagine that gun control is going to be an issue that Democrats are going to ride to restoring their majority in 2014.
Those two factors demonstrate why both parties have been willing to live with the recent status quo on guns. Neither may have been entirely happy with it, but at least they knew where things stood.