By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The Texas school massacre May 24 was the latest in a familiar ritual.
There’s a hideous massacre. It’s 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 that a majority of Americans back comprehensive gun control legislation.
The slight twist this time is that a handful of entertainers and National Rifle Association supporters said no to any participation in the NRA’s annual convention in Houston. There are continued reports that the NRA is in steep decline. That the organization is plagued by scandals, has lost money, membership and its political clout has nose-dived over the last few years.
Meanwhile, a legion of Senate Democrats and President Joe Biden again demand a vote on a series of modest gun control proposals that in one form or another have languished in the Senate seemingly forever. The proposals include tightening regulations on automatic weapon sales, more stringent background checks on gun buyers, especially teens, 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.
That is where it will end. Former President Donald Trump, in a rousing speech to the NRA convention, again loudly opposed any legislation to restrict gun sales to as he put it “to law-abiding citizens.” The NRA is so confident that the Senate will again do nothing on any gun control measure that it hasn’t bothered to mount a full-throated public relations campaign against it.
It’s supremely confident for two reasons. One is that it has seen public passions, anger and clamor for Congress to do something about the virtual unchecked proliferation of guns soar repeatedly 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 doesn’t happen this time, the polls that show a majority of the public wants tougher gun control legislation tell a story about just how much the public really wants it. The spike in demand for tougher legislation after prior massacres took only a modest jump to a bare majority. In fact, in the last couple of years polls show that support for tougher gun laws have dropped.
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 three 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.
Despite its seeming membership and funding woes, the NRA still has a well-oiled, well-versed labyrinth of political action committeees, 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 Republican business and political interests is another bad misread. A big share of the NRA’s campaign dollars went to Republicans. But it has been adept at spreading the largess around. Democrats also have received NRA campaign contributions.
The NRA has gotten a stupendous return on the millions it spent on federal elections over the years. In the years since the assault ban expired in 2004, a couple dozen strong gun control bills have died in House and Senate committees. There hasn’t been much movement in the states either to get tougher gun control laws. Many states still have the barest minimal gun checks.
Then there’s the saga of the one weapon that Robb Elementary School shooter Salvador Ramos 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 assault rifles. There’s no indication that a ban on sales of them will be on the Senate docket any time soon, if at all.
Some Democratic senators who know the score when it comes to trying to get some action, Texas massacre or no, on gun control, pretty much concede that it’s a dead letter for now. However, their angry public saber rattling against pro-NRA senators to act 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.
In his address following the Texas massacre, Biden demanded “When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” Sadly, even the monstrous Texas massacre won’t make Congress grow the legs to do that.
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 Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.