The ritual is by now well-known. There’s a hideous massacre, followed by loud calls from much of the public for Congress to do something and do something fast about passing tougher gun control legislation. The calls for action are backed up by polls that show once more that a majority of Americans back comprehensive gun control legislation. A legion of Senate Democrats again demand a vote on a series of modest gun control proposals that in one form or another have languished in the House and Senate seemingly forever. The proposals include tightening regulations on automatic weapon sales, more stringent back ground checks on gun buyers, and making sure that those on the terrorist watch lists, or those who could or should be on the lists, be barred from getting guns.
The ban on gun sells to terror suspects is the one proposal that on the surface would seem to be a no-brainer and might have a shot at Senate passage. The odds also seemed to jump that the Senate would give it serious consideration when presumptive GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump appeared to put his seal of approval on this common sense proposal. The prospects for some action seemed to look even better when a couple of Republican senators gave a favorable nod to the measure.
This is likely where it will end. In fact, the NRA is so confident that the Senate will again do nothing on any gun control measure that it didn’t even bother to make even its usual perfunctory public denunciation of the proposals.
It’s supremely confident for two reasons. One is that it’s seen public passions, anger and clamor for Congress to do something about the virtual unchecked proliferation of guns soar time and again after a heinous massacre, and just as quickly pass when a few days go by and the news cycle shifts to shove the gun debate out of the headlines. Even if that didn’t happen, the polls that show a majority of the public wants tougher gun control legislation tell a soberer story about just how much the public really wants it. The spike in demand for tougher legislation after the Orlando massacre took only a modest jump to a bare majority. This wasn’t much higher than after the San Bernardino massacre last December.
The other reason is the make-up of who sits in Congress hasn’t changed much in the past few years. The same Republican and Democratic senators who took varying amounts of campaign cash from the NRA in the two presidential and national elections since 2008 are still for the most part there. The NRA’s scorecard of wins with them is still nothing short of phenomenal.
The NRA has a well-oiled, well-versed, labyrinth of PACs, lobbyists, legal counsels, divisions, funds, and a foundation to make sure that these senators faithfully tow the NRA line.
The assumption that the NRA is basically a front for conservative GOP business and political interests is another bad misread. A big share of the NRA’s campaign dollars went to Republicans; it has been adept at spreading the largess around. In 2012, Democrats received more than $2 million in NRA campaign contributions.
The NRA has gotten a stupendous return on the $17 million it spent on federal elections in 2012 and the tens of millions it spent on past elections. In the decade since the assault ban expired in 2004, nearly 20 strong gun control bills have died still born in House and Senate committees. There hasn’t been much movement in the states either to get tougher gun control laws. Thirty-three of the states have the barest minimal gun checks. A dozen others have only slightly more restrictive controls on guns.
Then there’s the plight of the one weapon that Orlando shooter Omar Mateen and other mass killers have used and that has drawn more attention, ire, and demand for restriction on than any other. That’s the various make assault rifles. A ban on their sale is not even on the Senate docket. There’s no indication that it will be any time soon, if at all.
Some Democratic Senators who know the score when it comes to trying to get some action, Orlando or no, on gun control, pretty much concede that it’s a dead letter for now. However, the talkathon that they engaged in in the Senate after the Orlando massacre, and their angry public saber rattle of the pro NRA Senators to take action has shelf value in that it at least keeps alive the debate in the place where it counts the most, and that is Congress. In a more cynical vein, they show their constituents that they are willing to go on public record backing tough gun control checks.
After each fresh mass bloodletting, Obama, Clinton, and now even Trump, and a majority of Americans scream loudly for Congress to do something, anything, to stop the gun carnage. The Orlando massacre, tragically, like the others, won’t end the NRA’s terror grip on the Senate that make that impossible for now to do.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of How the NRA Terrorizes Congress, (Amazon Kindle) He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.