Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Gun control? Don’t hold your breath

Howard Fineman, Newsweek: I don’t know what I was thinking. It seemed to me that the gruesome tragedy at Virginia Tech might prompt a new wave of legislation—not just talk but legislation—to limit the sale of handguns in America. But a few calls and e-mails to people who know the politics of the issue led to a different conclusion: forget about it.

...I canvassed top leaders and aides of the Democratic establishment on the Hill and got a uniform response: are you kidding? Here’s how one of them put it, bluntly: "The NRA still has a lock on Congress." A political consultant who works with the NRA seemed almost unable even to understand the question, so comfortable in his fortress did he seem.

And Virginia? No paradigm shifts in the offing, according to Larry Sabato, the well-known political scientist at the University of Virginia. It’s not just the Republicans who would oppose any new restrictions (and there aren’t many in Virginia); many Democrats would join them. "The prospects of new legislation are zero, absolutely zero," he said.

In fact, there’s support in Virginia for the idea of MORE guns as a solution to the campus safety problem. Educators in the state years ago decided to ban guns on college campuses; there was a move in the legislature to reverse that by statewide law. Expect to see another such effort.

The right to bear arms means more than its literal words imply: it means a way of life and thinking, involving independence, protection of land, and suspicion of federal—or all government—authority. Virginia is as close to the ground zero of that thinking as there is.

As a result, Sabato said, access to guns is easy—as the shooter in Blacksburg demonstrated. "Hell, I’ve got a clean record, only a few traffic tickets, so I could go out to Clark Brothers"—a famous gun emporium that always does a brisk business.

It’s a way of life in Virginia, and much of America. And it isn’t going to change anytime soon.