Connecticut school shooting

Latest gun tragedy unlikely to lead to tougher laws, political insiders say

Despite tragedy in Connecticut, stricter control over weapons is unlikely, political veterans say

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 December, 2012, 4:58am

Another mass shooting, another drive for gun control. But will the latest shooting - this time at an elementary school - change the political calculus in Washington and generate more support for tougher gun laws?

"I think the impact of this is going to be inescapable," said Kristen Rand, legislative director of the Violence Policy Centre.

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, is among the worst shootings in the United States' history and comes after a spate of other high-profile episodes of violence, including mass shootings this year at a Colorado cinema, a Wisconsin temple and an Oregon shopping mall.

The tender age of the victims brought tears to President Barack Obama's eyes and an assertion from him that, "we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics".

But political observers from both parties were doubtful anything major would be done.

"You think Social Security is the third rail of politics, try guns," said a Republican strategist, who spoke on the condition that he not be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Congress, far from being inclined to tighten gun laws, allowed an assault weapons ban to lapse in 2004.

The lack of new gun laws reflects the influence of the National Rifle Association, said Sanford Levinson, a constitutional law professor at University of Texas in Austin.

"The NRA has sufficient control over the Republican Party and the Democratic Party is, for good reason, scared stiff to go out on a limb on this issue," Levinson said.

"There is absolutely no chance whatsoever of bipartisan gun control legislation."

The gun lobby's political power was illustrated during the 2012 presidential campaign when, after mass shootings, neither Obama nor his Republican opponent Mitt Romney called for restrictions on gun ownership.

"You have Republicans getting a lot of pushback from the base on a number of issues, such as agreeing to tax increases and compromising on immigration. Throwing the Second Amendment and gun rights into the mix would be devastating to the party," said a congressional Republican staffer.

A number of Democrats have been skittish about the issue, contending that Al Gore's support for gun control cost him votes in rural states in the 2000 presidential election.

White House spokesman Jay Carney steered clear of the issue when asked about it on Friday, saying it was a day for mourning, not policy debates. That stance immediately drew criticism.

"If now is not the time to have a serious discussion about gun control … I don't know when is," said congressman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York.

"President Obama rightly sent his heartfelt condolences to the families in Newtown. But the country needs him to send a bill to Congress," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

About 200 protesters appeared outside the White House, some carrying placards reading "Today: Sandy Hook. Tomorrow?" and calling for immediate action.

"Condolences don't work," said Pastor Michael McBride. What will work is "action now", he said.

"We've had enough," said Ladd Everitt of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, a leading gun control advocate who sponsored the now-lapsed federal ban on assault weapons, has said she planned to make a new effort to revive the measure.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg