Littwin: Is there really some movement on the gun control front?
February 22, 2018
If you believe what you read — and who knows, it may just be Russian bots — there's a groundswell of support to actually do something about gun violence in America.
I know. This feels like Lucy and the football. We've been here so many times, and each time you think this must be it — Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown, Charleston, Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas — it's not it. Nothing happens. Instead we get advice, as from David Brooks in The New York Times on Tuesday, that we need to empathize with the gun rightists if we expect to make any progress.
The deal seemed to be forever sealed after Sandy Hook when the slaughter of 20 first-graders and six adults went unanswered. Instead of action, we got the worst kind of reaction when President Donald Trump's favorite conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, insisted it was all a hoax, with actors playing the roles of anguished parents and presumably of dead kids.
But this time, we're told, might be different because the high school students themselves at Stoneman Douglas are loudly insisting something be done.
I hate to say that I am skeptical (although I can't help but be) because it's not the kind of issue you should ever give up on. And besides, maybe, just maybe, they're right. We're getting real hints of that now as politicians — even some of those usually found in the pockets of the NRA — are starting to take baby steps toward doing … something.
Something, in this case, stands as progress.
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Let's start with Trump, who announced he had instructed the Justice Department to propose regulations banning bump stocks — the previously obscure accessory that can make a semi-automatic gun act as an automatic gun and was used in the Las Vegas massacre. He had already spoken in favor of a bill that would make minor improvements in the federal background-check system. Meanwhile, when press secretary Sarah Sanders was asked about Trump's views on banning assault rifles — long ago, in another life, he favored banning them — she said he hasn't "closed the door on any front."
As Stoneman Douglas students were on a seven-hour bus ride Tuesday to Tallahassee to speak to Florida state legislators, The Miami Herald was reporting that the Legislature would consider raising the age limit for purchasing guns like an AR-15 and to possibly add a three-day wait period. Meanwhile, though, in real terms, the legislators voted down a bill to simply discuss banning the weapons.
As you may have heard, the students also are organizing a march in Washington to which George and Amal Clooney have donated $500,000. As you may see in the 24-7 coverage of the Winter Olympics, American biathletes, who use guns in their sport, are speaking out for gun control.
And maybe the most telling part is that the usual right-wing crazies have started to criticize the students for their activism in the wake of 17 deaths at their high school. Yeah, of course they have. Or maybe it's this: The NRA hasn't tweeted since the massacre. It's the longest time the organization has gone without tweeting since 2015.
I've covered, God help me, five school shootings, from Columbine to Santee, California, to Red Lake, Minnesota. Long ago, we settled into an all-too-familiar routine of teddy bears and flowers at makeshift memorials, of candlelight vigils and grief counselors, of tears and of anguish.
What's different this time is the addition of anger from students, anger that is aimed at the grownups for failing to protect them and, more importantly, their now-dead friends. It's safe to assume that the anger arises in large part because of Trump and the anger toward him that was already in place.
One flashpoint came in dueling tweets — what else?
In the midst of his recent unhinged weekend tweetstorm, by which time Trump had figured out that the Mueller indictment of the Russia 13 wasn't, in fact, good news for him, he found a way — a most offensive way — to conflate the Russia probe and the FBI's blunder in the Parkland shooting.
So, where does this go from here? History says nowhere. Recent polls show Americans want action from Trump and from Congress. But polls have favored different levels of gun control for years, and nothing gets done. You can thank the NRA, gutless politicians and the framers' uncertain use of the comma when writing the second Amendment.
There were two polls out Tuesday. In The Washington Post-ABC poll, 77 percent say Congress hasn't done enough to prevent mass shootings and 62 percent say Trump hasn't done enough. More people do think, though, that better mental health screening (77 percent) would prevent these shootings than gun control (58 percent).
In a Quinnipiac poll, people favor stricter gun laws by a 66-31 margin, 97 percent support universal background checks, 67 percent said it was too easy to buy a gun in the United States. The 66 percent wanting stricter laws is the highest number the Quinnipiac poll has ever recorded.
So, there is momentum. There is anger. There is anguish. There will be marches. And apparently a majority of Americans want to believe — even knowing that the NRA's silence won't last for much longer — that could be enough.
Mike Littwin typically runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com
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