Why gun control is unlikely

2013-01-18 15:27
President Barack Obama is flanked by young children as he signs an executive order designed to tackle gun control. (File, AFP)

President Barack Obama is flanked by young children as he signs an executive order designed to tackle gun control. (File, AFP)

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Chicago - President Barack Obama held a press conference on Wednesday outlining his administration's proposals to try and stem the USA's infamous gun violence problem.

Obama highlighted universal and improved background checks on people wishing to buy guns (currently only those who buy guns from official gun dealers undergo these evaluations), banning assault weapons and some kinds of ammunition, limiting capacity of magazines, and more. While some of his ideas sounded common-sensical, and others less so, it is unlikely much will happen on the gun control front.
For starters, it is worth pointing out that there remains a wave of public outrage at the killing of 20 children and six staff, at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month – this is a lot of the reason Obama is trying to move so fast: Capitalise on this national mood before it runs out.

It is no coincidence that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo rushed his state's brand new gun laws through within a month of the shooting in the state next door to his. Outrage has a finite lifespan. If Obama doesn't get this stuff through Congress quickly, it is likely support will begin to wane.
More importantly, though, is what will happen when this reaches Congress. There are two chambers in the US government. The lower chamber is the House of Representatives, controlled by Republicans, and the upper chamber is the Senate, controlled by Democrats.
The Democrat majority leader of the Senate, Harry Reid, has already publicly said he will not entertain any legislation that has no chance of passing the House of Representatives. Quite frankly, this is so that no Democrats in the Senate have any anti-gun votes on their record, unless they are totally necessary.

Election prospects

The House is likely to be much harder to get Obama's proposals through as Republicans hold a 33-seat majority, and many Democrats hail from rural areas where guns are popular. In fact, there is a significant school of thought that says the assault weapons ban signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994 cost the Democrats their majority in the House later that year.
Reid is correct to be worried. In the midterm elections in 2014, 33 Senators are up for re-election, and 20 of them are Democrats. Of those 20, six are Democrat seats from really conservative states (Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, and a seat being vacated in West Virginia by Jay Rockerfeller).

There's also Max Baucus of Montana whose election prospects may not be so dire, but it will be tight. Two of these Democrats (Johnson and Begich) are highly rated by the National Rifle Association and are unlikely to mess with that. Republican votes will likely be required to plug the gap created by gun-enthusiast Democrats.
And it isn't just Democrats up for re-election next: Democrats representing Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Dakota, Virginia, Missouri, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado and Michigan, all of where guns are popular, will be hesitant to lop crosses next to anything that is perceived as unfairly limiting gun ownership. And it's not like Republicans will be queuing up to replace them.
In the Senate there is a legislative trick in the minority party's arsenal called the filibuster – when enacted it means a three fifths vote is required to pass a piece of legislation, as opposed to a simple majority. If this happens, even if all Democrats vote for a piece of legislation (which they won't), five Republican votes will be required in the 100-member body, and that's as unlikely as a Bafana Bafana goal.
The most likely way forward will be at the state level, where action is happening in New York, Connecticut, Delaware and Maryland. Or the president signing an executive order.
Don't expect masses through the federal United States Congress.

Read more on:    barack obama  |  bill clinton  |  us  |  us school shooting  |  gun control

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