You know the ritual: gunman goes berserk, liberals call for gun control, regulation eventually ensues.
The modern gun control movement began in 1981 after the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan. Press secretary James Brady, shot and paralyzed in the same incident, successfully lobbied for the passage of the Brady Law, which imposed a background check and waiting period of up to three days for gun buyers.
The 1999 shooting spree at Columbine High School resulted in new laws making it illegal to buy a gun on behalf of a criminal or a child seeking to evade the Brady Law requirements. Congress funded state-run databases of the mentally ill, also prohibited under Brady, after the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech.
Two weeks ago, a man used multiple weapons, including a semi-automatic rifle with a 100-round magazine, to murder 12 filmgoers in Aurora, Colo. (The clip jammed after he fired 30.) This week, a white supremacist and washed-up U.S. soldier mowed down six people attending services at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Every day, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg reminded us, 34 Americans are shot to death.
So what new gun control laws can we expect?
Neither White House nor Congressional Democrats has any appetite for taking on the powerful NRA during a close election year. Polls show the public sharply split on the issue. After the shooting at the Sikh temple President Obama offered nothing more than pabulum: "terrible, tragic events are happening with too much regularity for us not to do some soul-searching to examine additional ways that we can reduce violence."
Either you're serious about eliminating gun violence, or you're not. "Soul-searching" isn't going to block the next bullet fired by a madman—but the law, coupled with rigorous enforcement, can.
The NRA may sound hysterical—they're certainly opportunistic, having called for donations three days after Aurora—but they're right about gun control advocates. Anti-gun liberals say they favor "common-sense measures that protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens but make it harder and harder for those who should not have weapons under existing law to obtain them, " as White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says Obama wants.
There are too many guns already out there (60 million Americans own 200 million firearms!) and too many legally purchased weapons that can be sold privately without being subjected to the Brady Law for such half-measures to have any effect beyond possibly—theoretically—slightly—reducing the body count of the next group killing.
If you're serious about putting an end to America's bloody love affair with guns, you're going to have to repeal the Second Amendment. Everyone, including Democrats, knows that. But it's hard to get behind a gun ban that's only supported by 26% of the public. (That's a record low, down from 60% in 1959.) Liberal gun opponents must either embrace such a radical and unpopular measure—the only one that might stand a chance of having the desired effect—or keep proposing wimpy little changes that make them look foolish, half-assed, and intellectually dishonest.
Ted Rall is a columnist, cartoonist, author and independent war journalist. He is the winner of numerous awards and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His new book is The Book of Obama: How We Got From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.