By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The latest mass shooting — this time in Lewiston Maine — once more brutally, heinously and nightmarishly underscores one tormenting fact: Congress remains just as totally paralyzed as ever on passing any meaningful gun control legislation.
Even when Democratic-controlled state legislatures in such states as California and New York pass tough gun laws there are always two glaring problems. The first is that the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts keep knocking those laws down as being too restrictive, rendering them virtually ineffectual.
The second and even bigger problem is that it will make absolutely no difference if one state passes a tough gun control measure. A juvenile, an unstable individual, or a criminal can simply go to a neighboring state with minimal or no restrictions on the sale of guns and purchase a gun and transport it across a state line.
Then there is the illicit sale of guns within cities and states that manage to keep a restrictive gun law on their books. The traffic in guns, both legal and illegal, goes unabated.
The absence of a national mandate and fully enforced comprehensive gun control measures ensures that guns would always be freely trafficked, bought and sold to any buyer.
After every mass shooting there follows the inevitable public outcry and demand for congressional action on gun control. In response, Republican congressional leaders — and more than a few Democrats — give the same three answers to why gun control laws are eternally stonewalled.
The first was that restrictions will not deter the shooters from obtaining their favored weapon of mass mayhem such as the AR-15 rifle. They would restrict law-abiding gun owners from possessing guns.
The second retort was to dutifully cite the Second Amendment.
The third comeback is to fall back on the old canard that the problem was not free access to guns but the absence of or laxity of mental health facilities and treatment for disturbed individuals. This blames the individual, ignoring the fact that many of the mass shooters had no history of recorded mental health impairment nor showed any outward signs of homicidal derangement.
This naked and horrid anti-gun control congressional firewall renders the pleas by President Joe Biden and the gun control votes by many Democrats within and without Congress and state legislatures cries in the dark. Biden and former President Barack Obama, and even President Donald Trump met a hard wall of congressional resistance to their appointment of directors for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
There is yet another problem: the general public. There have been countless polls on public attitudes toward the passage of tougher gun control laws. The polls have shown a mix of ambivalence, hesitation, muddle and outright hostility toward these laws.
The gun lobby has done an expert job in redefining the issue of the right to carry a gun anywhere and anytime and by anybody as an issue of freedom and liberty. Any restriction on that supposed right was attacked as an infringement on liberty, freedom and rights.
Polls show that the spike in the public demand for some action on gun control almost always comes immediately after yet another massacre. But then as the days pass and the shooting drops from the news headlines the spike in the public demand for action drops just as quickly.
In polls, an overwhelming majority of Americans say that government and society should act to prevent further carnage. A substantial percentage of those polled are pessimistic about the effect of any government action. They say that even if the government takes some action, it will not prevent more mass shootings.
There is a sliver of hope though of getting the public behind some action. Most Americans consistently say they back three measures on gun control.
One is that those with a history of mental illness should not have access to guns. The second is that the government should require more stringent background checks on private gun sales and sales at gun shows.
The third is to renew the ban on the sale of assault weapons. Again, Congress and many state legislatures have refused to act on even these minimal demands favored by most Americans.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas posed the right to carry guns as almost a patriotic duty of all Americans when he joined the majority in striking down New York’s tough gun law. Thomas said the laws must be “consistent with this nation’s historical tradition.” In other words, that means almost no laws or restrictions on guns.
Much of the public’s ambivalence and hostility to tight gun control laws has given Congress and the Republican-controlled state legislatures more than enough ammunition to brush aside almost any kind of restriction on the right to pack a gun. That includes even the most minimal requirement of obtaining a permit by teens.
Guns, and the unlimited right to possess them, are enshrined as America’s sacred cows. It has been that way for decades.
The Lewiston massacre — as the countless others before it — no matter how shocking, heinous and frequent, has not shaken the belief of much of the public that there should be only the mildest, if any restrictions on gun access. This ensures that incidents like Lewiston will continue to be as American as apple pie.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of book, “Mass Shootings — Made in America” (Middle Passage Press). He also is the host of the weekly Earl Ofari Hutchinson Show at 9 a.m. Saturdays on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.