Washington Massacre: Explosion of Anti-Gun Referenda

At least half a dozen states are considering passing laws to limit the distribution and use of firearms over the next few months. The National Rifle Association, which continues to welcome new members, has not seen its popularity wane. Meanwhile, the sale of firearms and ammunition has reached a record high.

Aaron Alexis, the reservist who shot and killed 11 people on September 16 inside the Washington Navy Yard, said that he believed that “electromagnetic waves” in his brain prevented him from sleeping. He was obsessed with playing violent video games and had a history of frequent fits of rage that created conflict between him and the military authorities. His troubled past and his mental state did not stop him from legally purchasing a Remington 870 shotgun in Virginia and from entering the headquarters of the Naval Sea Systems Control to shoot and kill innocent people.

As is now often the case after every American massacre caused by a mentally unstable perpetrator or by gross negligence, the political and media debate over gun control is once again revived. A debate that, as the past has proven time and again, is obviously destined to elicit much controversy and few results. “I hope that we can regard this tragedy as another call to action,” explains Democrat Richard Blumenthal, senator for Connecticut who became an avid supporter for gun control legislation after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. “This makes common sense,” affirms another Democrat, Joe Manchin, who supported passing a law imposing stricter controls on those who wish to purchase firearms. The bill failed to obtain majority support from the Senate last April. Meanwhile, Dick Durbin, second in command of the U.S. Senate, has called for another vote. It is unlikely, actually practically impossible, that discussion over this bill would be reopened.

Harry Reid, Senate majority leader and senator from Nevada, a state where the gun lobby is particularly strong, said that he had no intention of reopening the debate. A number of Democratic senators, who last April voted against measures to limit gun control proposed to the Senate, measures that were strongly supported by President Obama, made it known through their spokespeople that they would not change their minds. Besides, no massacre could dissuade those who fear their future in politics. There are at least four Democratic senators who oppose any and all action to control gun ownership: Mark Pryor, Mark Begich, Max Baucus and Heidi Heitkamp. They come from Arkansas, Alaska, Montana and North Dakota respectively, areas that have a long-standing tradition of supporting and defending the Second Amendment. Besides these four senators, there are dozens of Democratic, as well as Republican, senators and members of Congress that prefer to keep a low profile.

The midterm elections will take place in 2014 and during this time nobody wants to find themselves against the NRA, the powerful pro-gun advocacy group. The Democrats were especially discredited after what happened in Colorado last week, when two senators from Colorado were the subject of a recall election. The senators, who had not yet finished their mandates, were ousted by the Legislative Assembly in favor of two Republicans. The two overthrown Democrats, Angela Giron and John Morse, had given their support for tougher gun control laws. The fact that Colorado lived through a recent massacre — the movie theater shooting in Aurora — and that in the past few years voters have been leaning more toward the left rather than the right, could not help save Giron and Morse.

Meanwhile, the shootings continue, Washington has been unable to decide on much and the battle has shifted away to the local level in the past few months. At least half a dozen states will consider laws to limit the sale and use of firearms over the next few months. Minnesota, New Mexico and Oregon are trying to pass laws to extend controls on people who buy firearms. Maine and Washington state are collecting signatures in support of a popular referendum against firearms. Even the array of pro-gun advocacy groups is on the move. Their strategies seem to focus on one point in particular: Politicians who expressed ideas that are opposed to the right to bear arms should be subjected to recall elections. This is what is happening in Nevada, for example, to a Democratic senator, Justin Jones. The threat of seeing their political career torn to pieces should therefore stop the most hostile politicians.

In recent months, the pro-gun lobby has netted a series of important wins thanks to intense media campaigns that focused on the risks that the Second Amendment could be subject to. Firearms and ammunition are selling very quickly in stores where they are sold. Groups that defend the Second Amendment have seen membership levels rise considerably. Sportsman’s Alliance in Maine welcomes between 70 and 100 new members every month. Even legislative wins have not been significant in recent times. Indiana, Kansas and North Carolina, states that are Republican-controlled, have passed laws that allow people to legally carry firearms in churches, elementary schools, casinos and college campuses. In these states, concealed carry permits have been made confidential and they have expanded self-defense statutes.

In view of the upcoming political and legislative clashes, anti-gun groups — for example “Mayors Against Illegal Guns,” founded by the mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg — are reconsidering their strategies, but most importantly are planning to put in millions of dollars to counterattack the flux of money that the NRA will see pouring in. The pro-gun lobby is rich and extremely powerful; what is particularly difficult to beat is the widespread mentality that is present among large factions of the population that see guns as the achievement of freedom. A public statement that was made a few hours ago by Starbucks, the coffeehouse chain located all over the U.S. that has a rather urban and leftist clientele, showed how difficult it is to eradicate this way of thinking. Starbucks announced that “firearms were not welcome” in its cafes, but they did not publicly forbid armed people from entering their cafes to drink coffees and cappuccinos.

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