Connecticut school shooting

Bring sanity to US gun debate

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 April, 2013, 3:23am

The latest attempt to bring some sanity to Americans' right to bear arms came down to one measure - expanded background checks to stop the sale of guns to criminals and the mentally ill. Political lobbying in the US senate killed proposals to control automatic assault weapons and online sales. But even that did not satisfy opponents, led by the National Rifle Association. Dire threats to the re-election prospects of wavering lawmakers also prevailed against background checks.

Sadly, the re-run of past attempts at gun control was predictable, despite strong support in opinion polls after the horrific massacre last December of 20 schoolchildren and six adults at an elementary school in Connecticut. But, happily, the fight is not getting any easier for the gun lobby.

The NRA's political stranglehold on the issue is being tested. A majority of the Senate did in fact vote for expanded background checks, but not the 60 needed to overcome procedural obstacles to further legislative progress. A few months ago a majority was unreachable, and the topic politically untouchable.

During last year's elections, the gun lobby poured about US$18 million into campaigns against political enemies, with mostly disappointing results. And the balance of financial power has changed, with New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg pitting his personal fortune against the NRA's resources, including US$12 million for an advertising campaign and funding a group called Mayors Against Illegal Guns. He has vowed to take a leaf out of the NRA's book, by targeting opponents of gun control in next year's mid-term elections.

Success is far from assured. The gun-control coalition's support in opinion polls does not necessarily translate into elections. The pro-gun minority, including 4.5 million NRA members, are more likely to get out and vote. That, so far, has been enough to spook lawmakers into shooting down challenges to America's culture of guns and violence.