Responding this week to the shooting massacre in Texas, President Trump made himself irrelevant to the problem by declaring that it wasn’t a gun problem, while other elected officials and political activists made themselves irrelevant by ranting again about the “gun lobby.”
Connecticut U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said his colleagues in Congress “need to think about whether the political support of the gun industry is worth the blood that flows endlessly.”
The Newtown Action Alliance denounced “the corporate gun lobby’s relentless pursuit of its guns-everywhere-to-anyone agenda.”
But “gun lobby” is only a disparaging term for the general opposition to more restrictions on guns. Yes, the gun industry finances a lot of propaganda, but there is plenty of anti-gun propaganda as well. Elected officials who are reluctant to restrict gun rights are less the devotees of the industry’s campaign contributions than they are sensitive to their many gun-owning constituents - tens of millions of people. Further discouraging more gun control, there are more single-issue voters on the pro-gun side than on the anti-gun side.
Without that huge constituency, the “gun lobby” would have little political influence. The decisive influence comes from what its opponents might better call the “gun culture,” and perhaps alone among elected officials who want more gun control, Governor Dannel Malloy this week acknowledged that huge constituency while lamenting it.
“Many Americans,” the governor said, “are willing to take the chance that their child will be murdered in exchange for continuing to own their gun. ... Many Americans will close their eyes to what is going on in America with the use of guns in order to maintain what they think is their right unfettered.”
Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, more or less concurred with the governor’s analysis. “People are not going to let their rights be taken away from them with the promise of safety from government officials,” Wilson said. “I think people realize the police can’t be everywhere.”
The investigation of the Texas massacre has supported Wilson’s concern about government’s fallibility. For while the perpetrator had been convicted of domestic violence while serving in the Air Force, the Air Force failed to report his conviction to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, so he was not disqualified from purchasing guns as he ordinarily might have been.
Since every month brings more mass shootings by madmen who pop up out of nowhere, more people may come to believe that they need guns to protect themselves in everyday life, though they may end up taking more risk than they guard against.
Of course the fallibility of government is no reason not to enact sensible gun-control measures, like extending background checks to all sales and transfers and outlawing “bump stock” devices that turn rifles into machine guns.
The immediate problem is that many advocates of such proposals, like the Newtown Action Alliance, also seek to outlaw all guns through back doors like making manufacturers financially liable for the misuse of their products. That prompts reciprocal absolutism from gun owners. They will have to be persuaded of the sensible measures.
The bigger problem is that this is a continental country with an estimated 300 million guns already in private possession, an entertainment industry that glorifies violence around the clock, and an ever-growing number of disturbed people. In such circumstances even outlawing guns might not accomplish much.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.