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A Political Push For Gun Control Ahead?

Dec 15, 2012
Originally published on December 15, 2012 5:04 pm




In front of the White House today, the flag flies at half-staff. And across the country, Americans are expressing their grief and their sense of despair. This morning, in his weekly address, the president spoke out about the tragedy.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As a nation, we have endured far too many of these tragedies in the last few years: an elementary school in Newtown, a shopping mall in Oregon, a house of worship in Wisconsin, a movie theater in Colorado, countless street corners in places like Chicago and Philadelphia. Any of these neighborhoods could be our own. So we have to come together and we're going to have to take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this from happening, regardless of the politics.

RAZ: And just a short time ago, the governor of Connecticut, Dannel Malloy, also spoke.

GOVERNOR DANIEL MALLOY: When tragedies like this take place, people often look for answers, an explanation of how this could have happened. But the sad truth is there are no answers. No good ones, anyway.

RAZ: Joining me now, as he does most Saturdays, is James Fallows from The Atlantic. And, Jim, we have been here before - you and I - talking in the aftermath of a massacre. And yet we know they will happen again and again.

JAMES FALLOWS: We do. This conversation we had after the Aurora shootings this year and after the horrific Gabrielle Giffords shooting last year. And so far, the dynamic of American politics has been we put the flags at half-staff, we grief, whoever is our political leader tears up, and then essentially nothing happens. And the question is this time whether there's anything about the horror of this case that'll make it different.

RAZ: Is it different?

FALLOWS: It's not different. It's different in its scale. As we've gotten used to hearing, it's one of the worst school shootings ever. It is undeniably different in the horror of all these little children. So the question is whether finally this crosses the threshold of doing what the president said of meaningful action, something that he and politicians of all parties have avoided for recent memory.

RAZ: What is meaningful action?

FALLOWS: That is the question. I think we - on my own part, I decided that it's worth trying to talk about gun safety as opposed to gun control, because gun control has become so embattled, so poisonous, so divisive an issue in American politics that polls show even that most average people think they have less faith that gun control will make any difference.

But if we could talk about gun safety, not challenging the right of those who want to have guns to use them, but to make sure the effects on our whole society are not as destructive as they have uniquely been. No other country is like this with the exception of Somalia during wartime or certain Mexican drug states.

And we can talk about incremental gun safety steps, and enlist responsible gun owners and the NRA to that account. That might do something, but it will depend what happens the next few days, starting with the president.

RAZ: After the Dunblane massacre in Scotland in, I believe, in 1996, the British Parliament passed very strict handgun laws. It is illegal to own, I believe, to own a handgun for private personal-owned handgun in Britain. Nothing like that has happened since.

FALLOWS: And there's almost an echo case in Australia where there was the so-called Port Arthur massacre back in the 1990s in Tasmania, which was like this case in its scale - even more people were killed then. The conservative Prime Minister John Howard had this sweeping measure of gun control legislation. And Australia has had no large-scale killing like that since. The main counterargument in the United States is that we already have hundreds of millions of guns...

RAZ: Three hundred million guns.

FALLOWS: ...circulating around and there is no way to illuminate them altogether. But if we recognize other large-scale problems - whether its terrorism or crime of any sort - that we're not going to deal with absolutely, but we're going to try to do something about. And it's the effort to do something that I hope we will see.

RAZ: There have been turning points in the past - some turning points - notably the assassination of JFK, RFK, Martin Luther King - that they had actually begin to have an impact on the national conversation.

FALLOWS: It's true. And when I was a teenager during that era and there were all these - national politics was transformed repeatedly by assassinations, people thought this cannot go on. And I hope that the sense in the U.S. after a year of unprecedentedly high mass shootings is that we can do something about this because we can't live this way.

RAZ: That's James Fallows. He's a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a regular on this program. Jim, thanks for coming in.

FALLOWS: Thank you, guy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.