суббота, 3 октября 2015 г.

The 5-Minute Fix


Love 'em or hate 'em, the gun laws America has now are likely to stay the nation's gun laws for awhile, even in the wake of yet another horrific mass shooting and a visibly frustrated president pleading with our country to change them.

To understand why, let's go back to the 2012 shootings in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26 teachers and children. A tearful President Obama at the time promised "meaningful action" and called on Congress to expand background checks to all gun purchases and ban assault weapons.

Four months later, the Democratic-led Senate attempted to do just that. It failed.

Obama called that April 2013 day "a pretty shameful day for Washington." Through his anger, he urged the overwhelming majority of Americans who told pollsters that they supported expanded background checks to vote out lawmakers who essentially voted against those checks.

Americans took no such action.

Today, the Republican majorities in Congress are as big as they have been at any point since the Great Depression. The largely anti-gun-control party reached that historic mark thanks in part to the November 2014 midterms, the very election Obama had hoped would tip the scales on the gun debate.

The politics are now nearly insurmountable for Obama and anyone else who wants to enact stricter gun-control laws. Let's look a bit more closely at why that is.

America's relationship with gun laws is complicated.

"Stricter gun control laws" is a key phrase in this whole debate. Polling shows a huge majority of Americans support specific policies, such as universal background checks, to prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands.

(Philip Bump / The Washington Post)

(Philip Bump / The Washington Post)

But when you ask Americans another way -- whether they want to enact stricter gun measures -- support plummets. Most people, according to this August CBS News poll, still support stricter laws, but as The Fix's Philip Bump notes, a sizable portion are just fine with the way things are.

(Philip Bump / The Washington Post)

(Philip Bump / The Washington Post)

Which might explain this next chart. Pro-gun-rights Americans are more politically active than Americans who want more gun control, and the powerful National Rifle Association is as popular as ever. There are a growing number of nascent gun-control advocacy groups hoping to shift that reality, but they've got a long way to go.

(Philip Bump / The Washington Post)

(Philip Bump / The Washington Post)

As a result, Congress stays the way it is -- largely pro-gun, largely anti-gun-control -- and so do our gun laws.

Obama is trying to change that.

Obama speaking the evening of the Oregon shootings. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Obama speaking the evening of the Oregon shootings. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

But the president hasn't had much luck. While in office, Obama has issued statements or given speeches after nearly a dozen mass shootings, and his reactions have steadily grown more political, more emotional — and perhaps most notably, more resigned.

Here are three key moments in the president's evolution of how he talks about gun violence (more moments are here):

1. Tuscon: Avoid political rhetoric

After Jared Loughner shot Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) and nearly 20 other people with a handgun on Jan. 8, 2011, killing six, Obama eulogized the victims but warned against overtly political rhetoric.

"It’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds," he said.

2. Newtown: A call to action

Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother on Dec. 14, 2012, and then 26 people at a nearby school, mostly young children. The horror marked a shift for the president, who promised "meaningful action."

"We can’t tolerate this anymore," he said. "These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change."

He later issued 23 limited executive actions on gun control and called on Congress to pass legislation. As we've mentioned, four months later, a bill to expand background checks and ban assault weapons failed in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

3. Oregon: Unfocused anger

The president is officially angry at the state of America's gun laws after a gunman killed nine and injured at least seven Thursday at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore. He urged — almost pleaded with — people who support gun control to demand their politicians do something about gun violence. But it was also clear that Obama remains somewhat resigned when it comes to any immediate action.

"[T]his is something we should politicize," he said. "It is relevant to our common life together -- to the body politic."

Resigned or not, Obama is one of few politicians actually talking about gun control.

As the graphic above shows, conversations within America's halls of power would indicate that gun control isn't really on Congress's mind. 

There was a spike of mentions of gun control and mental health in the House and Senate after the 2012 Newtown shootings. But Fix editor Aaron Blake notes that with every mass shooting after, that chatter has diminished.

Gun violence affects different races very differently

Perhaps another reason effecting change on gun violence is so difficult is because its impact is felt very differently depending on who you are -- or what color you are.

Guns account for a similar portion of deaths among white, black and Latino Americans. But as my colleague Janell Ross points out, how each group dies from guns is very different.

And while white men are about eight times as likely to kill themselves with a gun than be killed by someone using a gun, black men are about six times more likely to be shot and killed by someone other than by themselves.

Let's wrap this up

To sum up, we have a public touched in different ways by gun violence, but touched nonetheless. That public largely supports basic gun control measures but does not express those sentiments at the voting booth. As such, lawmakers in Washington seem unwilling or uninterested in focusing on gun control.

Almost alone stands a Democratic president who desperately wants to change America's gun laws but, in the twilight of his time in office, appears resigned to the fact that he'll be unable to do so.