Published April 11, 2013
“There is a whole new sort of group of individuals now who – I don’t know what the numbers are – that never hunt at all. But they own guns for one of two reasons, self-protection or they just like the feel of that AR-15 at the range. They like the way it feels.”
-- Vice President Joe Biden on MSNBC discussing his call for gun control measures.
How did legislation intended to honor victims of a school shooting become legislation that would have done nothing to prevent that school shooting?
Special interest groups, left and right, bear considerable blame. So do the realities of 2014 electoral politics. A Senate with badly atrophied legislative muscles doesn’t help. Neither does it help to have a president both impatient and disengaged from the lawmaking process.
But the chief failing on legislation to prevent other mass killings like the one in Newtown Conn., is a failure of imagination.
Washington is not a very imaginative place, but few failures of creative thinking rank with what we’ve seen here in response to the December massacre that left 26 dead.
Consider the journey of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who was the first NRA-backed Senate member to open the door to firearms legislation. Manchin has been wrongly criticized for suggesting openness to banning some guns and then retreating. What Manchin did was suggest that he was willing to discuss gun control as part of a larger conversation that included mental health, the glorification of violence in media, and school safety.
By the time President Obama’s gun task force was halfway finished with its work, it was clear that those other considerations were going to be window dressing at best. Gun control advocates, fearing that every day that passed from the raw emotions of the killings, made their hopes of getting a gun ban in place dwindle, decided to ditch what is complicated or innovative and fall back to old and largely failed ideas.
While murder rates have dramatically declined in America over the past two decades, the phenomenon of mass killings has become a cultural sickness. Broken families, a corroded culture, the isolation and alienation of the Internet age, the inadequacy of mental health care and failing schools all play a part. These are matters of the heart and soul of a society, and these killings are terrible symptoms of chronic disease.
Manchin was calling for something that would explore and address some of these root causes, but before the conversation could begin, the gun grabbers were already grabbing and the cold-dead-handers were already gripping tighter. The moment was gone. The attacks had begun, and what was a moment of national dialogue reverted to pointless political shouting matches.
Today, Manchin is trying to sell a compromise on firearms background checks that would have done nothing to prevent the Newtown killings, since the perpetrator there didn’t buy the weapons. He took them from his mother, whom he also killed.
Manchin, a red-state Democrat working with blue-state Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, is trying to broker a deal that would expand criminal and mental health background checks by pressuring states to share data on prohibited purchasers and to include sales that take place through a commercial enterprise.
An individual could sell another individual a gun without a background check, but if a commercial entity is involved – hosting a gun show or an Internet site – mandatory checks would be required.
Even as gun control proponents bemoan the deal as “watered down,” gun rights groups remain worried that the legislation could be altered to create a federal firearms registry. The Manchin-Toomey plan forbids the creation of such a list, but conservatives hold little trust when it is the Obama Justice Department that is doing the enforcement.
But even if Manchin-Toomey somehow survives the Senate and passes the House, it would not prevent the next Newtown. Or the next Aurora. Or the next Tucson. Or the next Blacksburg. All of the weapons said to be involved in those mass killings were legally purchased from gun merchants and subject to full federal background checks.
And while gun control advocates can be happy that the expanded system may mean fewer gun sales, there’s little reason to think that Manchin-Toomey would do much to help the problem of greatest concern in the Democratic Party: street crime. As the urban party, Democrats are still more focused on ordinary gun violence, especially related to the drug trade.
Manchin and Toomey have staked out center ground on the issue of firearms background checks, and something might eventually pass the Senate and be modified again in the House. Yes, there is a call for a commission on mass violence, but the success rate for Washington commissions is abysmal.
Whatever happens, one thing we now know is that anything that does pass in the name of Newtown won’t address what happened in Newtown.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“I think they cleverly were able to get the press to believe that there was a huge concession with the change in the calculation of inflation, which creates a miniscule shift in the curve on Social Security. It's a quarter of a penny on the dollar. It is a very small change.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.