Gun control efforts dying in Congress
A sure sign that nothing much will happen on the gun control front is that President Obama has barely lifted a finger to personally lobby lawmakers to pass his agenda. And he certainly hasn't been anywhere near the negotiations that ended up bringing 4 bills to the Senate Judiciary Committee - three of which have little chance of becoming law.
After months of negotiation, four bills came to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, reflecting President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden's agenda for post-Sandy Hook action. The first makes straw purchasing and gun trafficking a felony and boosts the penalties for those crimes. Another would expand background checks to include private sales at gun shows and elsewhere. A third would boost spending on school safety programs. And lastly there's a push to ban assault weapons and large ammunition magazines.
The gun trafficking measure passed out of committee last week with the backing of Democrats and one Republican, the ranking minority member Chuck Grassley. It is likely to pass the full Senate next week and should eventually pass the House and become law. But it has less to do with Sandy Hook than with Fast and Furious. Over the last two years Republicans alleged that the White House and Justice Department conspired in a botched gun running investigation in Arizona called Fast and Furious. It was a whacky theory and was debunked by a widely praised Inspector General's report. But it's now hard for Republicans to oppose a bill that makes gun running a felony and boosts penalties for the crime after they made such a big deal of the case.
The most extreme Fast and Furious conspiracy theorists said the administration allowed gun running on the U.S.-Mexican border to build support for federal gun control. So the bill's passage would be a rare example of true irony (or if you're a fact-free type, proof the conspiracy theorists were right all along). In any case, gun backers may not have much to worry about. The three other bills, which nominally are intended to address specific elements of the Sandy Hook massacre, were delayed in committee last week and face an uncertain future the Senate floor and in the House.
The assault weapons ban is already near death, and so is the ban on large capacity magazines. Even Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has declined to support a ban and voted against the 1994 bill that expired in 2004. Grassley and other Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans are already out against both the assault weapons ban and the prohibition on large capacity magazine clips.
The gun lobby supports some kind of straw purchase ban and would probably not actively oppose an expansion of background checks to gun shows and some private purchases. But outside of the trafficking ban - which is useless to prevent gun violence because it wouldn't be used until after a criminal has committed a crime - gun control at the federal level is a spectacular failure for the president.
At state level, there is a different story to tell. Several states have already enacted much stricter rules on gun purchases, but others have actually loosened requirements. Taken as a whole, both the gun lobby and the American people have kept their heads while the hysterics didn't.