Commentary Magazine


Topic: Second Amendment

A Dishonest Post-Newtown Gun Debate

Two years ago this month, America was transfixed by one of the most horrific domestic tragedies in recent memory. A mad gunman attacked an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and slaughtered 20 children and six adults. The crime motivated President Obama and most of the mainstream media to take up the cause of gun control with fervor unmatched by any other campaign on the issue. But despite the use of the families of the victims to shame opponents of further restrictions on gun sales that treated them as the moral equivalent of murderers, such efforts largely failed, especially at the federal level. That defeat was attributed to the malign influence of the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun lobbies but a new Pew Research Center Poll reveals a very unwelcome truth for liberals: most Americans back gun rights and oppose those who wish to restrict or take them away.

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Two years ago this month, America was transfixed by one of the most horrific domestic tragedies in recent memory. A mad gunman attacked an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and slaughtered 20 children and six adults. The crime motivated President Obama and most of the mainstream media to take up the cause of gun control with fervor unmatched by any other campaign on the issue. But despite the use of the families of the victims to shame opponents of further restrictions on gun sales that treated them as the moral equivalent of murderers, such efforts largely failed, especially at the federal level. That defeat was attributed to the malign influence of the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun lobbies but a new Pew Research Center Poll reveals a very unwelcome truth for liberals: most Americans back gun rights and oppose those who wish to restrict or take them away.

The survey shows that for the first time since they began asking the question 20 years ago, more Americans support gun rights than those who say it is more important to control gun ownership by a 52-46 percent margin. This is a historic shift, made all the more dramatic by the fact that it reversed a 51-45 percent margin on the question that favored more gun control when the question was asked in January 2013.

The reasons why Americans think this way may flummox liberals who think the preservation of the Second Amendment’s Constitutional protections of the right to bear arms are a historical anachronism. The Pew survey reveals that those who believe owning guns makes them safer outnumber those who think they put people’s safety at risk by a whopping 57-38 percent margin.

Drilling down into the numbers provides some interesting insights into national opinion about guns. The number of African-Americans who believe owning a gun makes them safer has nearly doubled in the last two years. Yet in spite of that fact, the partisan divide on the issue remains stark with Republicans supporting gun rights 76-22 percent while Democrats support gun control 69-28 percent.

This should provide significant food for thought for political consultants pondering how the parties should approach the next presidential election. While liberals may have believed that time was on their side in the gun debate it appears that they are losing ground. By the same token, this is a reminder to Republicans that their opportunity lies in exploiting the dislike for such measures among middle and working class voters who care about the right to own a gun and unconvinced by liberals that wish to restrict such rights.

But even more importantly, this survey illustrates just how dishonest most of the discussion about gun rights from the mainstream media has been in recent years. Liberal ideologues in the media and politics have spent so much time trying to demonize the NRA and its supporters that they missed the fact that the group, for all of its flaws and occasional mistakes, remains one of the largest grass-roots organizations in the country. If the NRA’s membership boomed after Newtown it was not because gun nuts were paranoid but because a growing number of Americans understood that the goal of the president and other liberals wasn’t so much common sense gun control as it was to take the first steps towards stripping the right of Americans to bear arms away from them.

There may be a case for measures that might restrict sales of guns under certain circumstances but the poll makes it obvious that more Americans think they are more at risk if government makes it harder to own a gun. When those who advocate such measures in the future attack the NRA in the future, they should do so by arguing that new laws are necessary not because the gun lobby is a nefarious conspiracy promoted by heartless big business. As Pew has proven to us this week, the more they speak that way the farther they are getting from the truth about the American people and their willingness to defend their safety and their rights.

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Sheriffs Think Gun Laws Are Waste of Time

One of the leading talking points for those advocating more gun laws has been the support many such measures have gotten from law enforcement personnel. As a rule, police officers generally prefer working in environments where the populace is unarmed. That’s understandable since, at least in theory, fewer guns ought to make it safer for cops to do their jobs. But just as the consensus about the need for more gun control in urban sectors breaks down once you leave the suburbs and head into the exurbs and rural areas, the same might be said about peacekeepers. As the New York Times reports today in a front-page feature, a growing number of county sheriffs are not only saying they think the latest wave of state laws passed in the wake of last year’s Newtown massacre are wrongheaded or unnecessary. They’re also saying they won’t enforce them because they are unconstitutional or a waste of time.

This is happening not only in rural Colorado, which has become the cutting edge of the gun debate, but also in upstate New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo made new laws restricting firearms and ammunition magazines a priority in 2013 as well as in Florida and California. The trend stems in part from pro-gun sentiment. But just as important to the discussion is the notion that outside of cities, laws whose sole aim is to make it harder to legally possess weapons are seen as vague, unenforceable, and burden already overworked law enforcement officials with busywork. Many sheriffs simply say they’ve had enough and even if their attempts to nullify legislation on constitutional grounds are unlikely to succeed, their protests illustrate the growing discontent about legislation that is out of touch with the culture of rural America.

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One of the leading talking points for those advocating more gun laws has been the support many such measures have gotten from law enforcement personnel. As a rule, police officers generally prefer working in environments where the populace is unarmed. That’s understandable since, at least in theory, fewer guns ought to make it safer for cops to do their jobs. But just as the consensus about the need for more gun control in urban sectors breaks down once you leave the suburbs and head into the exurbs and rural areas, the same might be said about peacekeepers. As the New York Times reports today in a front-page feature, a growing number of county sheriffs are not only saying they think the latest wave of state laws passed in the wake of last year’s Newtown massacre are wrongheaded or unnecessary. They’re also saying they won’t enforce them because they are unconstitutional or a waste of time.

This is happening not only in rural Colorado, which has become the cutting edge of the gun debate, but also in upstate New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo made new laws restricting firearms and ammunition magazines a priority in 2013 as well as in Florida and California. The trend stems in part from pro-gun sentiment. But just as important to the discussion is the notion that outside of cities, laws whose sole aim is to make it harder to legally possess weapons are seen as vague, unenforceable, and burden already overworked law enforcement officials with busywork. Many sheriffs simply say they’ve had enough and even if their attempts to nullify legislation on constitutional grounds are unlikely to succeed, their protests illustrate the growing discontent about legislation that is out of touch with the culture of rural America.

It should first be admitted that lawsuits filed by sheriffs challenging new gun laws on constitutional grounds are stunts, rather than a serious legal argument. County sheriffs have no more right to refuse to enforce gun laws passed by their states because they say they violate the Second Amendment than the mayors and city councils of those municipalities that have publicly stated they won’t enforce immigration laws have to act in that manner. Being a sheriff or a mayor doesn’t give you the right to assume the role of the Supreme Court when it comes to determining the constitutionality of legislation, whether it is passed by a state or the federal government. Selective enforcement of the law is itself a violation of due process and those law enforcement officials that play this game are undermining their own credibility. They may not like gun laws any more than liberal legislators in the People’s Republic of Berkley, California like immigration regulations, or the administration when it comes to immigration or parts of their own ObamaCare law they find inconvenient, but they are just as obligated to see to it that the law isn’t mocked.

But the sheriffs are on much firmer ground when they note that much of the new gun legislation–and especially those measures that were rushed through some legislatures after Newtown as liberals sought to capitalize on public outrage over that atrocity–were more of a nuisance than a deterrent to gun crimes. Background checks for individuals selling their guns and high-capacity magazines makes sense to city dwellers who may not even know anyone who owns a gun for hunting or target shooting. But they are seen as irrelevant to the real problems of much of the country. As the Times points out:

Even Sheriff W. Pete Palmer of Chaffee County, one of the seven sheriffs who declined to join the federal lawsuit because he felt duty-bound to carry out the laws, said he was unlikely to aggressively enforce them. He said enforcement poses “huge practical difficulties,” and besides, he has neither the resources nor the pressure from his constituents to make active enforcement a high priority. Violations of the laws are misdemeanors.

“All law enforcement agencies consider the community standards — what is it that our community wishes us to focus on — and I can tell you our community is not worried one whit about background checks or high-capacity magazines,” he said.

The fact that such laws wouldn’t have prevented Newtown or most other high-profile acts of gun violence further undermines support for them among non-city dwellers. Thus, while sheriffs who have joined lawsuits against these laws have no right to say they will try to unilaterally nullify legislation on the basis of their own sketchy legal expertise, it may very well fall within their competence to declare such gun laws to be the moral equivalent of obsolete statutes criminalizing spitting on the sidewalk that are routinely ignored by city cops.

The problem here isn’t a gun lobby like the National Rifle Association that liberals like to demonize or out-of-control local officials as it is laws that are simply out of touch with the needs of much of the country. This goes to the heart of the debate about guns. Were liberals able to prove that burdening legal gun owners would substantially decrease gun violence they might have a leg to stand on in states like Colorado or upstate New York when it came to enforcing new pieces of legislation. But since they can’t, gun owners and sheriffs who sympathize with them consider the point of the exercise to take away their constitutional rights rather than a reasonable effort aimed at making for a safer society. That is why a year after Newtown support for more gun laws is no greater today than it was before that incident.

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Another NY Times Misfire on Gun Rights

In the lead-up to the high-stakes 2010 Senate election between Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Republican challenger Sharron Angle, a curious drama unfolded within the National Rifle Association. The NRA was, reportedly, considering endorsing Reid, incurring pushback from its conservative-leaning membership. Why would the NRA endorse a Democrat, even one more friendly to gun rights than most Democrats? Because, the logic went, a Reid loss coupled with the Democrats holding the Senate could elevate Chuck Schumer to lead the Senate.

Schumer is not just anti-gun, but the worst kind of anti-gun extremist: an East Coast liberal elitist who doesn’t know anything about guns or gun culture but hates them anyway. This propensity by Schumer to allow ignorance and prejudice to set his legislative agenda made the NRA understandably nervous. The NRA eventually chose to stay neutral in the race. This episode is worth keeping in mind when reading the New York Times Magazine’s lengthy article recreating the failure of the Manchin-Toomey gun-control legislation earlier this year. The bill was aimed at beefing up background checks amid the “do-something” rush of activity following the Newtown massacre.

The effort was almost torpedoed by Schumer immediately; the tragic news of the shooting gave Schumer the opportunity he craved to punish law-abiding gun owners–people who, according to Schumer, only existed in theory anyway. As the Times reports:

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In the lead-up to the high-stakes 2010 Senate election between Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Republican challenger Sharron Angle, a curious drama unfolded within the National Rifle Association. The NRA was, reportedly, considering endorsing Reid, incurring pushback from its conservative-leaning membership. Why would the NRA endorse a Democrat, even one more friendly to gun rights than most Democrats? Because, the logic went, a Reid loss coupled with the Democrats holding the Senate could elevate Chuck Schumer to lead the Senate.

Schumer is not just anti-gun, but the worst kind of anti-gun extremist: an East Coast liberal elitist who doesn’t know anything about guns or gun culture but hates them anyway. This propensity by Schumer to allow ignorance and prejudice to set his legislative agenda made the NRA understandably nervous. The NRA eventually chose to stay neutral in the race. This episode is worth keeping in mind when reading the New York Times Magazine’s lengthy article recreating the failure of the Manchin-Toomey gun-control legislation earlier this year. The bill was aimed at beefing up background checks amid the “do-something” rush of activity following the Newtown massacre.

The effort was almost torpedoed by Schumer immediately; the tragic news of the shooting gave Schumer the opportunity he craved to punish law-abiding gun owners–people who, according to Schumer, only existed in theory anyway. As the Times reports:

Joe Manchin shared the concern that the Democrats who were leading the charge on gun legislation didn’t understand how deeply people care about guns and needed to if they were ever to get anything passed. By January the universal background-checks legislation was being spearheaded in the Senate by Charles Schumer, a liberal from New York City. “Joe, I didn’t know anybody who owned a gun when I grew up,” Schumer said to Manchin, who replied, “Chuck, I didn’t know anybody who didn’t own a gun.” Schumer’s bill contained no provisions that might attract the support of gun owners, a fatal omission in Manchin’s view. “The bill Chuck Schumer dropped was one that I didn’t think anyone from a gun state would or should support,” Manchin told me. “So I reached out to the N.R.A. and said, ‘Let’s have an alternative.’ ”

That is, the Democratic effort on a major issue was being led by a man who was proud of his total lack of knowledge about the issue. It’s unclear whether Schumer realized his bill would never pass and therefore just wanted an opportunity to grandstand, or just wasn’t capable of leading a serious legislative effort. Manchin ended up nearly saving the effort by getting actual gun owners and experts involved, and crafting a quite reasonable bill that combined modest increases in restrictions in areas that arguably needed them with additional protections for gun rights.

In the end, the bill still didn’t quite make it, but it’s instructive to look at why that happened. Robert Draper, the author of the Times piece, says anti-gun activists must learn to better “break down the barriers of fear and mistrust from which the N.R.A. derives much of its power.” He then says this:

Yet even as the votes in the chambers still favor the N.R.A., gun-control advocates have some cause for optimism. Time does not seem to be on the N.R.A.’s side. According to data compiled by the nonpartisan National Opinion Research Center, between 1977 and 2012 the percentage of American households possessing one or more guns declined by 36 percent. That decline should not be surprising. Tom W. Smith, director of the research center, says: “There are two main reasons, if you ask people, why they have firearms: hunting and personal protection. Now, from external sources like the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, we know the proportion of adults who hunt has declined over the decades. And since the ‘90s, the crime rate has fallen. So the two main reasons people might want to have a gun have both decreased.”

On the issue of “fear and mistrust,” Draper throughout the article seems to ignore his own reporting. He notes, for example, that Anita Dunn spoke to a gathering of anti-gun Democrats and kept using “the R-word,” registration. This makes gun owners fear–wrongly according to Democrats–that the goal is to keep a registry of firearms owners to better confiscate them when the time comes. But as J.D. Tuccille recently pointed out at Reason, gun owners have been receiving confiscation notices from state government officials even as such moves are dismissed by lawmakers. “The problem for gun control advocates,” Tuccille writes, “is that they keep promising that no way will registration lead to confiscation of firearms, even as it does just that.”

And on Draper’s claim that time isn’t on the NRA’s side, it’s worth looking at the polling. It’s true that gun ownership rates have dropped, but that in no way means support for gun owners will drop. Here is Gallup’s detailed, long-term trend polling on gun rights, the most recent of which was taken in early October. It finds that household gun possession is at its lowest point since 1999. And yet, support for making gun-sale laws “more strict” is nearly twenty points lower than it was twenty years ago, and nearly thirty points lower than in 1990.

Support for a handgun ban has been dropping for decades, from 60 percent in 1959 to 25 percent today. The Gallup polling shows broad support for the expansion of background checks in the Manchin-Toomey legislation–regulation initially supported by the NRA as well. But when asked for some reasons respondents didn’t want the legislation to pass, 40 percent named Second Amendment rights.

The fact is, Americans take their constitutional rights quite seriously, even when they don’t directly impact them. Schumer and Co. seem to think rights of which they don’t avail themselves are irrelevant. It is to the American public’s great credit that they disagree.

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Why Newtown Didn’t Lead to Gun Control

Today’s release of the 9-1-1 tapes from the Newtown massacre has caused America to relive the horror of the awful day on which a mad gunman killed 20 first-graders and six staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. This has prompted a spirited debate in the media about the wisdom of broadcasting these tapes and news organizations have differed in their decisions. Count me as being on the side of those who chose not to expose the public to the tapes since they add little if anything to our understanding of the event and only serve as a form of crime porn to titillate viewers. But the main question members of the liberal mainstream media are asking today is the same one they will be posing in 10 days when we get to the first anniversary: why didn’t the disgust Americans felt at this atrocity lead to the enactment of stricter gun-control laws? But while they wonder how it is possible that the liberal media offensive didn’t buffalo politicians last winter, they’re even more perplexed as to why Newtown didn’t change public opinion on the issue. Indeed, as a new CNN/ORC poll reveals, a majority of Americans today oppose stricter gun-control laws.

The CNN poll shows that last January, at the height of the media offensive—and after President Obama decided to make the issue the centerpiece of his second-term legislative agenda—on behalf of gun control, 55 percent of the public backed tougher gun-control laws. The new poll shows that number down to 49 percent. This has to shock liberal pundits and journalists who have been operating under the assumption since Newtown that only a crazed minority of gun nuts and NRA members were opposed to the president’s gun agenda.

But the answer to their question isn’t much of a mystery. The majority of Americans understand not only that more legislation won’t stop lunatics from shooting people with legal or illegal guns, but they also don’t trust the government to enforce stricter laws fairly or to respect the constitutional rights of gun owners.

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Today’s release of the 9-1-1 tapes from the Newtown massacre has caused America to relive the horror of the awful day on which a mad gunman killed 20 first-graders and six staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. This has prompted a spirited debate in the media about the wisdom of broadcasting these tapes and news organizations have differed in their decisions. Count me as being on the side of those who chose not to expose the public to the tapes since they add little if anything to our understanding of the event and only serve as a form of crime porn to titillate viewers. But the main question members of the liberal mainstream media are asking today is the same one they will be posing in 10 days when we get to the first anniversary: why didn’t the disgust Americans felt at this atrocity lead to the enactment of stricter gun-control laws? But while they wonder how it is possible that the liberal media offensive didn’t buffalo politicians last winter, they’re even more perplexed as to why Newtown didn’t change public opinion on the issue. Indeed, as a new CNN/ORC poll reveals, a majority of Americans today oppose stricter gun-control laws.

The CNN poll shows that last January, at the height of the media offensive—and after President Obama decided to make the issue the centerpiece of his second-term legislative agenda—on behalf of gun control, 55 percent of the public backed tougher gun-control laws. The new poll shows that number down to 49 percent. This has to shock liberal pundits and journalists who have been operating under the assumption since Newtown that only a crazed minority of gun nuts and NRA members were opposed to the president’s gun agenda.

But the answer to their question isn’t much of a mystery. The majority of Americans understand not only that more legislation won’t stop lunatics from shooting people with legal or illegal guns, but they also don’t trust the government to enforce stricter laws fairly or to respect the constitutional rights of gun owners.

Liberals counted on a wave of emotion in the wake of Newtown to help bulldoze both Congress and the public into adopting their long-cherished dream to restrict gun ownership and make it more difficult to legally purchase weapons. In the first weeks after the massacre, they seemed to be right and polls reflected a surge in support for more gun laws. But after the nation started to look at the facts, the numbers changed. As CNN writes on their website:

The survey indicates that the intensity of opinion on the issue of gun control, once an advantage for gun control advocates, no longer benefits either side. In January 37% of all Americans strongly favored stricter gun laws, with 27% strongly opposed to them. Now that 10-point difference has completely disappeared, with the number who strongly oppose and strongly favor stricter gun control at essentially the same level.

Though the president and many in the media did their best to exploit the bloodshed, once it became apparent that the remedies proposed by the president had nothing to do with the crime, their momentum was stalled. No amount of rhetorical excess from President Obama or the pundits could cover up the fact that even if every item on his gun-control laundry list had been passed prior to the shooting, none of them would have prevented Adam Lanza from stealing weapons from his mother before killing her and then heading to the school where he committied senseless slaughter.

It is true that support for some measures like increased background checks and closing gun show sales loopholes do have strong support. But even there, resistance to those laws is fed by a sense that the liberals who claim they have no interest in taking anyone’s guns away aren’t telling the truth. As a Rasmussen poll conducted in September showed, 62 percent of those polled don’t think government can be trusted to enforce the laws fairly and 71 percent said it wasn’t possible for new laws to stop future Newtowns from occurring. A subsequent Rasmussen poll showed even more support for enforcing existing laws rather than trying new ones. The focus on so-called assault weapons was also quickly revealed to be more about cosmetics than firepower, further reducing the credibility of gun-control advocates.

The bottom line is that contrary to the expectations of liberals, the American people aren’t stupid. They understand that ideas like resurrecting assault-weapon bans and even more reasonable measures like background checks are items on the liberal legislative wish list, not an authentic response to a problem. While gun crimes are abhorrent, there is little reason to believe the liberal gun project will prevent them. All they will accomplish is to make it harder for law-abiding citizens to own guns. That’s why support for such laws is far lower today than it was 20 years ago when the Brady Bill passed.

More mental health initiatives may do something to stop the Adam Lanzas of the world from killing innocents, but the sense prevails that the push for gun control has more to do with a long-term war on the Second Amendment. That is why although Americans remain scarred by their memories of Newtown, they are even less likely to back liberal gun-control efforts than they were in the aftermath of the crime. Once emotion subsided, reason prevailed.

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Demonizing NRA Won’t Transform America

Turn on virtually any talk show heard or viewed in the mainstream media this past week and it’s clear that most of the chattering classes are convinced that the Newtown massacre marks a turning point in the history of American culture. According to this narrative, the country’s understandable shock and horror over the slaughter of innocents at the Sandy Hook Elementary School is the equivalent of Pearl Harbor or 9/11 in that it has fundamentally altered the political correlation of forces that has prevented gun control. More to the point, they believe this sea change is so profound that it will effectively silence advocates of gun rights so as to render them incapable of stopping whatever it is that Vice President Biden’s task force comes up with.

The principal target of this effort is, of course, the National Rifle Association that sensibly stayed silent for several days after Newtown and has only just started to make its voice heard. Most liberals are assuming that the low profile the group has had since then is just the start of a new era in which its influence will be curtailed. The assumption is that anger about Newtown is so great and the impulse to try to do something to prevent another mass shooting is so widely supported that the NRA will no longer dictate to Congress. But, as the Pew poll cited earlier by Alana shows, support for gun rights may yet survive Newtown.

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Turn on virtually any talk show heard or viewed in the mainstream media this past week and it’s clear that most of the chattering classes are convinced that the Newtown massacre marks a turning point in the history of American culture. According to this narrative, the country’s understandable shock and horror over the slaughter of innocents at the Sandy Hook Elementary School is the equivalent of Pearl Harbor or 9/11 in that it has fundamentally altered the political correlation of forces that has prevented gun control. More to the point, they believe this sea change is so profound that it will effectively silence advocates of gun rights so as to render them incapable of stopping whatever it is that Vice President Biden’s task force comes up with.

The principal target of this effort is, of course, the National Rifle Association that sensibly stayed silent for several days after Newtown and has only just started to make its voice heard. Most liberals are assuming that the low profile the group has had since then is just the start of a new era in which its influence will be curtailed. The assumption is that anger about Newtown is so great and the impulse to try to do something to prevent another mass shooting is so widely supported that the NRA will no longer dictate to Congress. But, as the Pew poll cited earlier by Alana shows, support for gun rights may yet survive Newtown.

More than any other lobby or cause, the NRA is the boogeyman of the American liberal imagination. To listen to liberals talking about it is to hear a portrait of an organization that treats errant members of Congress the way heretics and Jews were handled by the Spanish Inquisition. More than that, many liberals speak as if it is primarily a profit-making entity funded by gun manufacturers that has imposed a bizarre reign of terror on an unwilling populace.

Yet even though the NRA is assuming a much lower profile these days, the idea that it and its 4 million members will simply go away or be drowned out by the chorus of outrage over the murder of 1st graders is based more on liberal ideology than hardheaded political analysis.

It is true that the chances of a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban that expired several years ago has just gone from nonexistent to quite possible. Indeed, it is more than likely that Biden will propose something that will have far wider scope than the previous bill since the rifle used by the murderer in Newtown was legal even under Connecticut’s assault weapons law.

It is entirely possible that Americans are ready for a ban on military-style weapons, especially those that fire large amounts of ammunition in a short time. Many are also ready for a stronger background check system for gun purchasers.

That these ideas are things that the NRA has previously successfully opposed is, as I have written before, evidence that the group regards any regulation, no matter how reasonable, as merely the thin edge of the wedge of a larger agenda whose goal is the effective repeal of the Second Amendment. In this sense they are like pro-abortion groups that fight furiously against even the most reasonable restrictions on the procedure such as parental consent because they also not unreasonably believe that such bills are merely a prelude to an attempt to repeal Roe v. Wade.

The effect of Newtown will be to point out to the NRA those areas where they have overreached. But the expectation that supporters of gun control can do more than that is highly unrealistic.

After all even Joe Manchin, the senator who has become the poster child for NRA members who have had second thoughts about the issue in the aftermath of Newtown, has yet to say what gun control measure he will actually support in any of his seemingly innumerable press interviews.

What liberals who think Newtown means that gun rights can be rolled back will re-learn in the coming weeks is that the NRA’s influence is not so much a matter of money as it is of votes. For all of its bad press, the NRA is the living illustration of democracy, not influence peddling. Its voice has carried weight in Congress because it speaks for 4 million members who share its concerns about the threat to gun rights. That concern is currently overshadowed by anger about Newtown and the widespread though largely mistaken conviction that there is a way to legislate such tragedies out of existence. But it won’t take long for the liberal war on guns to wake up the NRA and its members and far more numerous sympathizers.

As Pete wrote earlier today, the demonization of gun supporters by media figures such as Piers Morgan illustrates the politics of a moment of outrage, not the sort of fundamental shift in American culture that would be required for liberals to do more than enact measures on the margins of the issue, such as assault weapons. Indeed, the comparisons to Pearl Harbor and 9/11 should prove instructive to those who think the NRA is on its last legs. Though both those events did transform American politics in the short term, in the long run the effects were minimal.

Try as they might, those seeking to capitalize on Newtown can’t make America a country that no longer thinks that gun rights are the guarantee of democracy. That is a belief that is not shared by any other modern democracy, even a country like Israel, where gun ownership is widespread. But like other stubborn elements of American exceptionalism, it is not the sort of thing that will be erased even by an event as horrific as Newtown.

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