The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Apparently, there will be no ban on assault weapons.

Never mind that Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster AR-15 assault-type rifle to rip apart the bodies of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. Forget the fact that James E. Holmes, the alleged Aurora, CO, movie theater shooter, fired, among other weapons, an AR-15.

Nor does it seem to make any difference that Jared Loughner — the man who shot Gabby Giffords and killed six others, including a 9-year-old girl — used a high-capacity magazine that the Clinton-era assault-weapons ban rendered illegal. A high-capacity magazine also enabled the massacre committed by Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech.

The political climate has changed since the 1994 ban: Democrats have cowered before the gun lobby; the National Rifle Association has grown even more extreme; the U.S. Supreme Court has moved much further to the right. And, in the 20 years since Congress banned assault-type weapons and high-capacity magazines, Americans have heard a steady drumbeat of pro-firearms rhetoric that fetishizes the Second Amendment. In other words, the climate around firearms has gotten crazier.

Even before the current debate over more restrictive gun laws began, most political observers knew it would be difficult to get Congress to stand up to the firearms lobby. So it’s no great surprise that Majority Leader Harry Reid, who runs from the shadow of the National Rifle Association, slammed the door on Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s effort to re-up the assault-weapons ban.

Still, I find myself once again wondering just how bad things have to get before the fever breaks — before the country comes to its senses on firearms. We’re in the throes of a kind of madness, a mass delusion that assigns to firearms the significance of religious totems.

Many critics of an assault-weapons ban note that it would not provide any magical cure-all for the mass shootings that have plagued us over the years since Columbine. That’s certainly true. But banning at least some assault-type weapons and the high-capacity magazines that feed them would be a step in the right direction. Why can’t we take that step?

What would be wrong with reinstituting a ban? For 10 years — from 1994-2004 — an imperfect ban prohibited the sale of certain types of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. It covered only new weapons; old ones were grandfathered in, so those already in existence were available to criminals, the mentally unstable and the impulse-control-challenged. The original ban didn’t prohibit easy modifications or cosmetic changes that allowed gun owners and manufactures to practically duplicate outlawed weapons. So the old law was hardly perfect.

But many law enforcement officials nevertheless supported it, declaring that it helped. It didn’t end gun violence or stop mass murders or prevent suicides (which account for two-thirds of gun deaths in this country). But it prevented some killings. Isn’t that worthwhile?

And the Clinton-era ban accomplished that without infringing on the rights of gun owners. They could still hunt game, protect their homes and enjoy firearms on gun ranges. The civilized world did not come to an end during those 10 years; the Second Amendment was not besmirched.

Yet, the vociferous — nay, deranged — leadership of the NRA has persuaded Congress that an assault-weapons ban is akin to totalitarianism. More important, it has persuaded Democrats that it has the power to end their political careers if they don’t carry water for the gun lobby. After Al Gore’s defeat in 2000, he and other Democrats blamed the loss partly on support for tougher gun laws. And the NRA was only too happy to take credit.

That was nonsense, of course. Gore won the popular vote and would have won the Electoral College, as well, if the ballots had been properly counted in Florida. Besides, he has only himself to blame for being a lousy candidate. But none of that seems to matter now because conventional wisdom has rewritten history.

If dead innocents — their bodies ripped apart by bullets from an assault weapon — couldn’t persuade Congress to ban at least some of those firearms and the high-capacity magazines that feed them, the cause is lost. So is our common sense.

(Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.)

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Advertising

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

Sen. Bernie Sanders, left, and President Joe Biden during 2020 presidential debate

I look at September 2019 as a month where I missed something. We began with a trip to New York to do Seth Meyers’s and Dr. Oz’s shows. Why would we go on The Dr. Oz Show? For the same reason we had gone on Joe Rogan’s podcast in August: We could reach a vast audience that wasn’t paying attention to the standard political media. On Dr. Oz, Bernie could talk about Medicare for All and his own physical fitness. While at the time we believed Bernie was uncommonly healthy for his age, he was still 78. Questions would be raised related to his age, and we needed to begin building up the case that he was completely healthy and fit. It turned out to be a spectacular interview, ending with the two of them playing basketball on a makeshift court in the studio. Bernie appeared to be on top of the world.

Yet in retrospect, I should have seen Bernie growing more fatigued. After New York, with the school year starting, we did a series of rallies at colleges and universities in Iowa; this was the kickoff of our campus organizing program in the state. We would then fly to Colorado for a large rally in Denver before heading to Boulder to prep for the third debate, to take place in Houston on September 12. In Iowa, Bernie’s voice was a little hoarse. After the rally in Denver, he had completely blown it out. He sounded terrible.

Keep reading... Show less

Rep. James Clyburn

When I interviewed House Majority Whip James Clyburn in 2014 about his memoir Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black, the South Carolina Democrat was confident in America’s ability to find its way, no matter how extreme the political swings might appear at any given time.

“The country from its inception is like the pendulum on a clock,” the congressman told me. “It goes back and forward. It tops out to the right and starts back to the left — it tops out to the left and starts back to the right.” And remember, he said, it “spends twice as much time in the center.”

Keep reading... Show less
{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}