Should Congress pass a strict gun control law? Absolutely yes! Will Congress pass a strict gun control law? Probably not.
Monday, pre-trial hearings for the alleged Aurora movie theater killer, James Holmes began. Friday, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords closed the circle on two tragedies when she visited Newtown, Conn., to talk with the families of the children who died in the shootings there. Ultimately, the campaign to limit the manufacture, sale and purchase of assault weapons will have to be a grassroots campaign because of the stranglehold that the National Rifle Association has on Congress. Hopefully, Giffords' visibility and identification with the gun issue will jump start that campaign.
Giffords has an important ally in New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Gun control legislation is a priority issue for the mayor. Mitt Romney's opposition to gun control was one of the reasons that Bloomberg gave for endorsing Barack Obama instead of his fellow corporate executive. The mayor will leave office a year from now and that will give him more time to campaign against assault weapons. A campaign against guns might also give Bloomberg the platform he needs to run for president as an independent in 2016.
More than half (58%) of all Americans support stricter gun control laws according to a Gallup poll conducted last month. Six out of every ten (62%) people favor a ban on high volume ammunition clips for assault weapons. And the outpouring of opinion of public support for gun control and the outrage over the tragic events in Newtown has translated into new legislative support for a ban on assault weapons. In the aftermath of the massacre in Connecticut, pro-gun Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin of West Virginia indicated a willingness to support an assault weapon ban.
Even so, the prognosis in Congress for stricter gun control laws is bleak.
First, the legislative calendar in Washington is already full. Congress will spend the next two months focused on a permanent agreement to end the budget wars. Then, the decisive role that Latinos played in the 2012 campaign will move immigration reform to the front of the congressional line. The last few years have proved that Congress can't walk and chew gum at the same time. Actually Congress can't legislate effectively or chew gum, much less do them simultaneously.
Then, there's the problem of the National Rifle Association. The NRA is a sitting duck in the court of public opinion but still rules on Capitol Hill. The organization's public profile took a hit in the aftermath of the slaughter in Newtown with its tone deaf proposal to put armed guards in every school in the U.S. My daughter is a high school teacher and she thinks the last thing schools need are more guns. Computers and books yes. Guns and ammo, no.
The NRA is a symbol of everything that is wrong with American politics. The giant special interest has the money and political clout to block even modest attempts to respond to the tragedies in Tucson and Newtown. The Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives dares not offend its patron. If there is a battle over gun control in Congress, the only thing that will come of it is more public frustration with the capacity of Washington to respond to the needs of the people that it is supposed to represent.
Brad Bannon is president of Bannon Communications Research, a Washington D.C.-based political polling and consulting firm that helps Democratic candidates, labor unions and progressive issue groups win political and public affairs campaigns. Campaigns and Elections magazine named Brad a "mover and shaker" in the political consulting industry. He is also one of the "Democratic Insiders" in the biweekly National Journal pundit poll.
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