A clearly perturbed and perplexed President Biden for the endless
time demanded that Congress take action to toughen gun controls. Biden made the
demand after yet another round of what has now become near ritual in Ame’rica. That
is mass shootings. This go round the carnage was at a nightclub in Colorado
Springs, Colorado, and a Walmart in Virginia.
The shootings sparked the predictable public debate over how
to crack down on the manic and senseless gun violence that continues to cause
indescribable pain and suffering for so many victims.
The usual suspects were quick to pounce with their by now
silly and facile, “guns don’t kill, people kill” pap line. As the
names and faces of the those gunned down in the horrific massacres became
known, a legion of voices joined with Biden in demanding that gun control be
shoved back on the White House and congressional table. This is where things always
The assumption is that the NRA and the gun lobby is so all
powerful, and financially well-heeled, that it can beat back any congressional
move to impose tougher restrictions on gun access. It has certainly done an
expert job at that. The NRA the few times it does issue an official statement
on a massacre always decries any blame being placed on minimal restricted gun ownership
as the cause of the killings. Other gun
control opponents go further and shrilly denounce calls for tougher gun laws.
But the NRA’s money, political clout, and the saber rattle
of gun control opponents is only part of the reason that tougher gun control
laws, no matter how many heartbreaking massacres occur, perennially face a hard
uphill climb. The tip off came the one-time congress did make gun control an
urgent national priority. That was during the Clinton presidency.
Congress after another loud public clamor about massacres
clamped a prohibition on the manufacture for civilian use
of semi-automatic weapons that were branded assault weapons. Congress did not ban
their sale outright. Instead, Congress limited the ban to ten years. The ban expired
in 2004. It was not renewed. Nearly two decades later, and despite a seemingly endless
parade of mass shooting in the years since, the ban expired, congress has resisted
every call to reimpose the ban.
The reason for the dodge has nothing to do solely with NRA opposition.
Nor does it have anything to do with Biden and congressional Democrats seeing
the issue as an unnecessary wave of the red flag in front of millions of gun
It is the simple recognition that gun ownership is a fact of
American life and a rigidly protected constitutional right. During his stint in
congress Biden never made tough gun control legislation his legislative priority.
In the White House he has mostly followed the precedent of nearly all
presidents and that is to leave tougher restrictions on gun sales and
trafficking to the states. Some states have passed laws that ban assault guns
and high-capacity ammunition magazines, limit the number of gun sales, require
child safety locks on new guns, and outlaw 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 does not 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, and that includes weapons of mass
destruction. Only congress can pass a uniform federal standard to restrict the
manufacture, sale, and transport of guns.
This is where the fight begins and unfortunately has quickly
ended. Other than a mild bill passed in June 2o22 mandating more stringent background
checks on young gun buyers, congress has been mute on any gun curbs with real
teeth. This did not mean that gun control bills were not written and
introduced. They were in every congressional session. In nearly all cases, none
of the proposed gun control curbs made it out of congressional committees.
This in no way means that gun control curbs are dead in the
water in perpetuity in congress. If there is enough public outcry and push eventually
a tougher gun control measure could finally force congress to again act. Almost
certainly, Biden, backed by House and Senate Democrats, will continue to
implore congress to act on gun control measures. And just as certainly, there
will be more Walmart and Club Q2 type mass killings that will spark outrage.
The eventual passage of fresh gun restrictions would at
least send the right signal that the gun lobby is not invincible, and that
millions of Americans want and demand anything that will at least potentially
head off the next rampage. At least that is the hope.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He
is the host of the weekly Earl Ofari Hutchinson Show on KPFK-Radio 9 AM Saturdays
and the Pacifica Network.
is the publisher of thehutchinsonreport.net