Jacob Sullum wrote the other day about the successful recall of two pro-gun control politicians in Colorado. Molly Ball in the Atlantic sees this as proof that not even a year after Newtown, gun control is once again dead:
Advocates needed to send a signal that politicians could vote for gun control without fear of ending their careers. Instead, they sent the opposite message. Now risk-averse pols, already all too aware of the culture-war baggage the gun issue has historically carried, will have no incentive to put their political futures in jeopardy by proposing or supporting gun-control legislation. Indeed, it doesn't seem far-fetched to think that gun control might go back into the policy deep-freeze where Democrats had it stowed for most of the last 10 years……
The supposedly new-and-improved gun-control lobby was convinced that conventional wisdom was out of date. It set out to convince politicians that the landscape had changed. It had a less inflammatory message and more modest goals than the would-be gun-prohibitionists of the 1980s and '90s. It had a public that seemed galvanized by the shootings in Tucson and Aurora and Newtown, and polling data that seemed to show voters overwhelmingly supportive of its aims….
But there was still one thing they needed to prove. They needed to prove that they could protect the lawmakers whom they coaxed out on a limb. On Tuesday, they failed that test. Future lawmakers facing similar votes aren't going to care about the particulars; they're going to look at John Morse and Angela Giron and think, That's going to be me. No thanks.
I had what seemed to be the crummy timing of having an article headlined "Gun Control R.I.P." appear a week or so before the Newtown shooting, and many correspondents thought it worthwhile to take the time to let me know exactly how obviously wrong and crazy I was. I believed before Newtown, and believe even more now, that the politics of gun control have–rightly–become resistant to whipsawing based on a random outlying tragedy.
Similarly, I'm not as confident as Ball is that local and state politics everywhere re: guns are so similar to Colorado's that this week's recall proves that no politician will dare be anti-gun in the near future. (As she points out, the gun control laws that Morse and Giron were removed over are still in force.)
There is a significant and impassioned group of activist and policy entrepreneurs and politicians who very much want to pass more restrictive gun laws, and they won't disappear, and they might even continue to have small local victories.
But for all the same reasons I wrote about before Newtown, I don't expect them to be very successful nationally or for long. Not because of the unique power of the gun lobby, but because most Americans understand both the constitutional and prudential reasons for allowing individuals to own common means of self-defense and pleasure.
My book on the politics and law of gun control, Gun Control on Trial.