By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
“Today’s ruling is a watershed win for good men and women all across America and is the result of a decades-long fight the NRA has led.”
That was the official statement from long time National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre. He was so happy he couldn’t see straight after the U.S. Supreme Court, in a sweeping decision on gun restrictions in New York, virtually knocked out any controls on guns.
This is the same LaPierre who did one of the greatest political tightrope acts in history following the Uvalde, Texas school massacre in May. He condemned the killing without once mentioning the words “gun control.”
LaPierre also wasn’t shaken by the tepid, modest and virtually toothless congressional gun control bill Congress finally passed after decades of resistance. The Supreme Court decision pretty much rendered the congressional action meaningless.
The same could hardly be said about the continuing gun carnage in America that La Pierre and the gun lobbies see, hear and speak no evil about. At the start of June, the country had wracked up 246 mass shootings this year. That is a record pace.
Massacres are getting so routine and commonplace that there is a real danger that they will no longer make the news.
The one meaningful piece of gun restrictive legislation that did any good was the 1994 ban on assault weapons passed during the Clinton administration. It had a 10-year shelf life.
To no surprise, it was not renewed in 2004. The NRA and the gun lobbies hated every moment it was on the books. They worked overtime to make sure that when it came up for renewal it was dead in the water.
The assumption is that the NRA and the gun lobby are so all-powerful and financially well-heeled that they can beat back any congressional move to impose tougher restrictions on gun access. It certainly has done an expert job for decades at doing that.
The NRA’s money, political influence and the saber rattling by gun control opponents are only part of the reason that tougher gun control laws, no matter how many heartbreaking massacres occur, always face a tough fight. It harked back to what then President Barack Obama said about the country’s gun tradition and history after his many attempts to prod Congress to act on gun control.
That is gun ownership is a fact of American life and a rigidly protected constitutional right.
In the White House, Obama simply followed the precedent of nearly all presidents and that was to leave tougher restrictions on gun sales and trafficking to the states. Some states did pass laws that banned assault guns and high-capacity ammunition magazines, limited the number of gun sales, required child safety locks on new guns and outlawed the sale of cheap handguns.
The huge drawback to the state-by-state gun action is that it does not significantly limit the massive trafficking in guns across state lines. It also doesn’t begin to address the question of how to identify and then prevent the legions of human ticking time bombs that do not have a criminal record and appear to be normal functioning individuals from legally purchasing and even stockpiling weapons, including weapons of mass destruction.
Only Congress can pass a uniform federal standard to restrict the manufacture, sale and transport of guns.
That is where the fight begins and unfortunately has through the years quickly ended. Congress was virtually mute on any gun curbs in the years since the expiration of the assault ban.
That did not mean that gun control bills weren’t written and introduced. They were in every congressional session. But not one piece of gun control legislation made it to the House floor. In almost all cases, none of the proposed gun control curbs even made it out of a House committee.
Gun control curbs were not dead in the water in perpetuity in Congress. Following the Robb school massacre and the murder by a white supremacist of 10 Blacks in a Buffalo supermarket in May, gun control was back on the congressional table.
President Joe Biden and the Democrats had been lobbying for months before the massacres for a tough new gun control law. They, as usual, got nowhere. But now with a freshly aroused public outcry after the Texas massacre, there was some movement.
A handful of Republicans agreed to consider proposed legislation. The most significant required stringent background checks and an intensive review of juvenile and mental health records on sales to those under age 21.
Even with this the ancient problem remains. The proposed law does not ban the outright the sale of assault weapons to young people. Nor does it ban the sale of those weapons to anyone. The loopholes skirting even this law are still wide open.
If Republicans and more than a few Democrats have their way, that’s not likely to change. The result: America will still resemble a gunfight at the OK Corral with more massacres and with the human pain and suffering they bring being the order of the day.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is “The Midterms: Why They Are So Important and So Ignored” (Middle Passage Press). He also is the host of the weekly Earl Ofari Hutchinson Show at 9 a.m. Saturdays on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.