By Chris Cronin
It seems like every week there is a new attack. It can come from a disgruntled employee, a loner with a history of violence, even a teenager. The scene can be a movie theater, a shopping mall, an office, or even a school. And it always ends the same—the shooter dead or captured, the media’s frenzied search for answers, a bedraggled police chief announcing the few details in a hastily-arranged press conference, the pictures of the victims pasted on the television screen. Mass murder with firearms has become a grim routine in this country.
You only have to read the news to know that the status-quo is not working. Our nation’s laws are not adequately controlling gun violence, and with every eruption more people are suffering. And yet there seems to be little hope for change.
The argument for gun control has changed. Those in favor of tighter controls have been shouted down, outspent, and out-argued. Democrats, wary of losing political control in states which favor widespread gun ownership, have all but given up on making gun control a political issue. Even Hillary Clinton, whose husband was responsible for the landmark Brady Handgun Act in 1993, spoke of how her grandfather had taught her to shoot a rifle during the 2008 primary.
Republicans, wary of being on the wrong side of one of the nation’s best-funded pressure groups, go so far as to film campaign advertisements flouting their firearms.
That pressure group, the National Rifle Association, recently announced it was spending $1.3 million on ads for Mitt Romney in battleground states, even while Barack Obama has endorsed a similarly pro-gun stance. To contrast, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a leading voice for gun control, had just $4 million in its entire 2010 budget.
How do we break this political impasse? Well, the best way is for a national leader to have the political courage to stand against gun violence. Both Romney and Obama have supported broader gun control in the past, and just one speech from either candidate could certainly be a strong catalyst for change.
But with the election even closer than ever, neither candidate is willing to risk such a bold move. Even after the election, unless one party is able to win control of both the presidency and Congress, the necessity of focusing on one issue in order to move through political gridlock will cause whoever is elected to shy away from it in favor of more politically expedient issues.
No, the best way to begin the discussion of gun control is at a grass-roots level. The words “gun control” do not even have to be used—instead, we should focus on narrow but logical steps towards restricting the arsenal that mass murderers favor. One such restriction should be a ban on extended magazines.
Extended magazines have been used by shooters like Jared Loughner in Arizona, Nidal Hasan in Fort Hood, and James Holmes in Aurora in order to keep firing without stopping to reload. The most commonly-cited use for firearms, self-defense, does not apply: you do not need 33 shots, which Loughner’s Glock packed, to stop one or two intruders. In fact, these magazines were banned from 1994 until 2004, but this ban has expired—recent events have shown that it is time to renew it.
The second step is to pass national background-check legislation. The list of shooters with prior mental problems is long, but Loughner, Holmes, and Seung-Hui Cho in Virginia Tech were all able to legally purchase their murder weapons despite a clear history of violent mental disorder. By tightening background checks, we can help to keep firearms out of the hands of those who are most likely to use them for violence.
But no matter what, let’s talk. Because people are dying, and something needs to change.