The Gun Control Impasse

Changes to policy may be politically feasible now.

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Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd's sculpture, symbolizing non-violence, at the United Nations in New York City.
Photo:Francois Polito (Wikimedia Commons)
The Gun Control Impasse
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The Gun Control Impasse

Beyond the horror of the childern and teachers killed, why do mass shootings, like the one in Newtown, affect us so deeply?

We hear statistics all the time about how unlikely an event like this is -- how schools are actually safer.

Here’s Daniel Webster from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research last night on NPR’s All Things Considered:

"You know, gun violence affects us beyond the death toll, beyond the number of individuals who were wounded and treated in hospitals. It affects our overall psyche, how safe we feel. And I think they leave us incredibly fearful. When we think about the effects of policies like this, we have to think beyond just body counts. It affects us in far more deep ways." 

Today, where we live -- and throughout the day -- we’ll be considering guns and the way they affect us, from policy to us, personally.

The gun debate in America comes down to this: People who want to defend their right to own guns -- and people who want to put a limit on what kinds of guns and ammunition you can use -- are at an impasse. The murder of 26 people, most of them small children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School isn’t likely to change that.

But if you listen to politicians, from the president to Governor Dannel Malloy, now is the time to make a change: 

"Is there a law, a policy, or a procedure that we could have had on the books that would have prevented this tragedy? It turns out quite clearly, that the answer is yes."

For Malloy, and many other lawmakers, that means a federal ban on assault weapons...a ban that was once in place, but not reinstated under heavy political pressure from the NRA.

But remember, the gun that Lanza used -- the Bushmaster rifle is actually “legal” in Connecticut, despite a state ban on assault weapons.

Gun lobbyists pushed hard to kill another proposal in Connecticut that would have limited the size of the ammunition magazines for rifles like these. As Governor Malloy said last night in an emotional press conference, even smaller magazines may have meant fewer deaths.

Back to the politics - that lobbying pressure has kept congress silent on most gun control issues for years - even as mass shootings make the headlines - and single shootings in our cities continue - without the glare of the media.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin - a Democrat who supports gun rights - says he’s going to stand up for change. Here he is on MSNBC’s Morning Joe:

“I’m a proud American, a proud defender of freedom. I’m a proud parent. I’m a proud grandparent. I owe a lot more to my children, and my grandchildren. All that being said, being afraid because of political fallout to say, Does this make sense? Is it really the direction we should be, it’s the culture we should have in America? I’m going to speak to all my colleagues. I’m gonna reach out to all of my friends at the NRA. I’ll go over and sit down with them, and say, how can we take the dialogue to a different level? How can we sit down and make sure we’re moving -- and not be afraid that someone’s going to attack our freedoms and our rights, and all the culture that we were born and raised with, and grew up to do, and do it right?”

What about another issue, though -- the call for stricter controls on who can use a gun, whether mental health issues should keep people from owning firearms? Back in 2009, here’s what Lawrence Keane, Senior Vice President and chief counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, based in Newtown, told me on Where We Live:

"Nobody suggests that crazy people should be permitted to own firearms, whether it's a rifle, or a shotgun, or a handgun, or a revolver. So nobody is talking about that."

But two years later, that same group unsuccessfully opposed a California bill to fund the confiscation of guns from criminals and the mentally ill. Over the last few days - we’ve heard from many gun owners on our air - gun owners who don’t want their rights to be trampled in a rush to change law. We’ve also heard from many citizens who wonder whether we pay a price when we protect “gun rights” at all costs.

Today on Where We Live, the Colin McEnroe Show and the Faith Middleton Show, we’ll be talking about guns. Later this hour, Senator Joe Lieberman joins us. We want to hear from you.