In this week's Huffington, several of our reporters consider the past, present and future of gun control measures in the wake of December's mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
Despite polls showing that a majority of Americans support stricter gun laws, and that Democratic lawmakers have little to fear from backing gun policy proposals, the possibilities continue to shrink in Washington. As Sam Stein puts it in his introduction, noting the dwindling momentum for change as Newtown fades from memory, "Lawmakers once hopeful of crafting bills with broad bipartisan support have been reduced to scheming out procedural means for passing watered-down legislation through their chambers."
Sam also takes us back to the fall of 1994, when Dan Glickman, then a Kansas congressman, experienced the fallout from his support for a ban on assault weapons. Even though Glickman had recently passed a popular aviation jobs bill, his office began receiving angry letters from constituents. When November came around, Glickman, who had represented Kansas for 18 years, was defeated.
"I didn't know I was in the epicenter of this controversy until I started going door to door in my district," he said. "The NRA had made this issue Armageddon."
More than 18 years later, Newtown and a rash of other mass shootings have prompted calls for action, including the passage of a renewal of the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. But while a growing majority of Americans clamors for stricter and safer gun laws, a few powerful holdouts have an alternate take on what made possible the rampages in Newtown, in Aurora, at Virginia Tech, etc. etc. etc.
That dissenting view is abundantly clear in Howard Fineman's interview with NRA president David Keene. Keene's matter-of-fact statement is that, after the outcry that followed Newtown, "we had to change the subject." To do that, the NRA rolled out a PR blitz that included calling for armed guards in schools, blasting President Obama as an "elitist hypocrite" for employing armed Secret Service agents, and blanketing Connecticut with robocalls to push its pro-gun message. As Howard writes, "Keene told me that the NRA had no regrets or second thoughts and that gun control advocates had seized on the Newtown tragedy to pursue their own unconstitutional political agenda."
Elsewhere in the issue, Christina Wilkie looks at the Second Amendment Foundation, a non-profit that has backed a flurry of lawsuits designed to expand gun rights. It's a story that delves deeply into one of the less-discussed facts of guns in America -- that gun advocates are far from being a single, monolithic group. The NRA generally takes a gradual approach to expanding gun rights -- one professor calls its leaders "extraordinary minds for the long ball and the big picture" -- while other groups, like the SAF, are bolder and more aggressive. As Christina puts it, "Depending upon whom you ask, the SAF is either a brave defender of the Second Amendment or a sketchy upstart with the potential to significantly damage gun rights in the long term."
This appears in Issue 43 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, April 5.