On a weekend when the Christian world celebrates life conquering death, I’ve lost hope. I had a sliver of it three months ago, when Washington was poised to address what happened in Newtown, Conn., in a meaningful way.
No hope of that today. As memories of the massacre of innocents fades, so does the political will to stop or slow more carnage by banning assault weapons with high-capacity ammunition magazines.
After senators return from Easter recess, they will vote on a gun control bill. It will not include a ban on assault weapons or large-capacity magazines — the rapid-fire ammunition-feeding devices that inflict maximum damage.
They were used in mass shootings that left a congresswoman critically wounded in Arizona, and scores dead at Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, a Colorado movie theater, and a Connecticut elementary school. People thought 20 small coffins in Newtown would force Congress to embrace common sense.
If first-graders gunned down in their classrooms by a madman wielding a semiautomatic rifle wouldn’t motivate politicians to enact an assault-weapons ban and limit the size of magazines, what would? Weeping Newtown parents, clutching pictures of their buried babies, begged lawmakers to do the right thing.
Surveys show that most Americans support not only background checks for all firearms purchases, but also a reinstated ban on assault weapons and the sale of high-capacity magazines. At least a dozen polls, from Gallup to Fox News to Pew to New York Times/CBS News, found that most people favor the limited gun control measures that were introduced in Congress after Newtown.
The percentage of support for reinstating the assault-rifle ban hovered in the mid-50s, while a ban on high-capacity magazines captured anywhere from 51 to 63 percent support. A Washington Post/ABC News poll found that even Republicans endorsed many of the gun control proposals — until they were linked to you-know-who in the White House.
Once upon a time, there was hope on Capitol Hill. Surely the political dynamics of gun-control legislation had shifted for good after Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School became synonymous with slaughter.
The grief of the nation was palpable. So many senseless deaths. So many regrets. The resolve to change what had been acceptable in the country’s gun culture hardened.
A tearful President Obama spoke for everyone — we thought — when he said: “We can’t tolerate this anymore.” This time would be different. This tragedy of 20 murdered children would be a turning point in the national debate on guns. It had to be.
The right to bear arms is not absolute, we asserted. It does not extend to military-style semiautomatic rifles with 15-and-30 round magazines that dramatically boost firing output.
Rhetoric to curb the craziness was strong. Then political reality set in. Now the rhetoric is: Meaningful gun-control legislation can’t be done.
It’s too hard. There aren’t enough votes for a ban on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines. There never will be. The National Rifle Association is too powerful.
Republicans are too opposed. Politicians eyeing re-election are too nervous. Resignation has replaced resolve. Cowardice has supplanted courage.
Any firearms bill that gets through the Senate and passes the House will be significantly diluted. Better luck next time. Eventually, the President may sign some legislation — if the GOP-controlled House doesn’t block it — to expand background checks and increase school security.
It will be just enough for the gutless wonders in Washington to hold news conferences and say they did something about gun violence. But they will have fallen far short of what most Americans said they want in common-sense gun safety.
“Shame on U.S.” screamed a headline in the New York Daily News, surrounded by pictures of the 20 6-year-olds who died in Newtown. Columnist Mike Lupica wrote: “Any fool knows that [Adam] Lanza couldn’t possibly have killed as many children as quickly as he did on the morning of Dec. 14 without an assault weapon in his hands.”
He asked: “So how does the President and any other big politician who allows the gun nuts from the National Rifle Association to win again answer the larger question about weapons that make killings like the elementary-school massacre ridiculously easy: If not now for a ban on these weapons, when?”
What hope do we have if the silent majority remains silent, as politicians side with the powerful instead of the people?
Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.
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