Meaningful Change in Gun Control Policy Is Unlikely
A BU public policy expert explains why Newtown may not yield serious changes.
Calls for tougher gun laws sounded nationwide in response to last weekâ€™s school shooting, reviving the gun control debate that had remained all but dormant since the federal ban on assault weapons was allowed to lapse in 2004.
Although Republican leaders have already voiced opposition to reform,Â President Obama announced Wednesday that he will submit gun control proposals to Congress in the new year. â€śI will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this,â€ť President Obama said Wednesday. â€śIt wonâ€™t be easy, but that canâ€™t be an excuse not to try.â€ť
Despite all of the talk about reform, Graham Wilson, a political science professor at Boston University and an expert on the relationship betweenÂ interest groups and policymakers, is skeptical that it will yield meaningful results. He explains why significant policy change is unlikely:
1. The political influence of the National Rifle Association will be difficult for reformers to overcomeâ€”and their influence is likely to grow stronger in the coming weeks.
â€śThe NRA is one of the greatest barriers to reform,â€ť says Wilson. The NRA is the only interest group in Washington with major influence on gun policy, and theyâ€™re going to try and prevent any legislation from passing that would restrict access to guns.”
â€śYou might get the NRA to move on something like background checks,â€ť says Wilson. But that isnâ€™t going to do much to prevent shootings like the one last week from happening again. â€śThe reality is that the NRA isnâ€™t going to fade away.”
2. The NRA is simply too big an ally to the Republican Party for them to act against its interests.
â€śRepublican opposition is a fundamental risk that we face,â€ť says Wilson.Â â€śNRA supporters are a big constituency that Republicans have courted in recent years,â€ť and they are unlikely to do anything to alienate them.
â€śThe Republican leadership in the House has said nothing on the issue, and some Republican senators have already said that they will oppose [reform],â€ť he says. â€śTheyâ€™re going to slow it down through committee hearings, and gradually public sentiment [for reform] will fade.â€ť
3. Although Obama wonâ€™t come up for reelection, a lot of vulnerable Democrats will in 2014.
Itâ€™s true: Obama doesnâ€™t have to worry about reform affecting his chance of reelection, says Wilsonâ€”but Democrats in the House and the Senate do. 20 Democratic senators and 33 congressmen will be up for reelection in 2014, and many of them are from states that tend to favor gun rights, such as Montana, Louisiana, Alaska, Arkansas and West Virginia.
â€śObama needs them to win to maintain support in Congress for the rest of his second term,â€ť says Wilson, so Democrats are unlikely to push for laws that could alienate voters.
4. Even if stricter gun control legislation is passed, itâ€™s not likely to reduce the number of guns out there in the short term (or ever.)
â€śWeâ€™ve allowed [this issue] to drift for so long,â€ť says Wilson. â€śWith each passing year, there are more and more guns out there.â€ť There were more than 310 million non-military firearms in the United States in 2009, and that number has only gone up since then.
â€śWe could do a buy-back policy like the Australians,â€ť says Wilson, in reference to the program implemented in Australia in 1996, through which gun owners and dealers were paid for the surrender of newly prohibited firearms by the national government. â€śBut that would take 20 years of sustained policy to drive the number of weapons down meaningfullyâ€”and even then weâ€™re not weâ€™re not going to get all of them.â€ť
5. Gun control in Massachusetts isn’t enough.
Massachusetts has led the way on gun control more than once. We are one of a handful of states with a permanent ban on assault weaponsâ€”a measure signed into law by then-Governor Mitt Romney, shortly before the federal ban was allowed to expire at the end of 2004. And Menino joins New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg to advocate for stronger legislation. But laws passed on the state level arenâ€™t enough, says Wilson.
â€śWith New Hampshire straight up the 95 or the 93, what difference does it make?â€ť
Assault weapons that are legally purchased in New Hampshire or other states can be easily transported across state lines and illegally brought into Massachusetts. A nationwide ban is the only way to prevent this situationâ€”and Obama needs to get behind the ban in order for it to be successful.
â€śObama commands the most national attention. He has a much higher prospect than a senator or a mayor of making this issue happen,â€ť says Wilson. â€śThe mayor of New York City doesnâ€™t have the general credibility on this issue thatâ€™s required … Unfortunately [Obama] has a lot of other commitments,â€ť says Wilson, â€śthe fiscal cliff to name one.â€ť
Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/blog/2012/12/20/change-gun-control-policy-unlikely/