Littwin: Is there really some movement on the gun control front? (Couldn’t be, but, hey, maybe)

If you believe what you read — and who knows, it may just be Russian bots — there’s a groundswell of support to actually do something about gun violence in America.

I know. This feels like Lucy and the football. We’ve been here so many times, and each time you think this must be it — Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown, Charleston, Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas — it’s not it. Nothing happens. Instead we get advice, as from David Brooks in The New York Times Tuesday, that we need to empathize with the gun rightists if we expect to make any progress.

The deal seemed to be forever sealed after Sandy Hook when the slaughter of 20 first-graders and six adults went unanswered. Instead of action, we got the worst kind of reaction when President Donald Trump’s favorite conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, insisted it was all a hoax, with actors playing the roles of anguished parents and presumably of dead kids.

But this time, we’re told, might be different because the high school students themselves at Stoneman Douglas are loudly insisting something be done.

I hate to say that I am skeptical (although I can’t help but be) because it’s not the kind of issue you should ever give up on. And besides, maybe, just maybe, they’re right. We’re getting real hints of that now as politicians — even some of those usually found in the pockets of the NRA — are starting to take baby steps toward doing … something.

Something, in this case, stands as progress.

Let’s start with Trump, who announced he had instructed the Justice Department to propose regulations banning bump stocks — the previously obscure accessory that can make a semi-automatic gun act as an automatic gun and was used in the Las Vegas massacre. He had already spoken in favor of a bill that would make minor improvements in the federal background-check system. Meanwhile, when press secretary Sarah Sanders was asked about Trump’s views on banning assault rifles — long ago, in another life, he favored banning them — she said he hasn’t “closed the door on any front.”

As Stoneman Douglas students were on a seven-hour bus ride Tuesday to Tallahassee to speak to Florida state legislators, The Miami Herald was reporting that the legislature would consider raising the age limit for purchasing guns like an AR-15 and to possibly add a 3-day wait period. Meanwhile, though, in real terms, the legislators voted down a bill to simply discuss banning the weapons.

As you may have heard, the students are also organizing a march in Washington to which George and Amal Clooney have donated $500,000. As you may see in the 24-7 coverage of the Winter Olympics, American biathletes, who use guns in their sport, are speaking out for gun control.

And maybe the most telling part is that the usual right-wing crazies have started to criticize the students for their activism in the wake of 17 deaths at their high school. Yeah, of course they have. Or maybe it’s this: The NRA hasn’t tweeted since the massacre. It’s the longest time the organization has gone without tweeting since 2015.

I’ve covered, God help me, five school shootings, from Columbine to Santee, California, to Red Lake, Minnesota. Long ago, we settled into an all-too-familiar routine of teddy bears and flowers at makeshift memorials, of candlelight vigils and grief counselors, of tears and of anguish.

What’s different this time is the addition of anger from students, anger that is aimed at the grownups for failing to protect them and, more importantly, their now-dead friends. It’s safe to assume that the anger arises in large part because of Trump and the anger toward him that was already in place.

One flashpoint came in dueling tweets — what else?

In the midst of his recent unhinged weekend tweetstorm, by which time Trump had figured out that the Mueller indictment of the Russia 13 wasn’t, in fact, good news for him, he found a way — a most offensive way — to conflate the Russia probe and the FBI’s blunder in the Parkland shooting.


In response, students hit back hard. My favorite was this from Aly Sheehy.

So, where does this go from here? History says nowhere. Recent polls show Americans want action from Trump and from Congress. But polls have favored different levels of gun control for years, and nothing gets done. You can thank the NRA, gutless politicians and the framers’ uncertain use of the comma when writing the 2nd Amendment.

There were two polls out Tuesday. In The Washington Post-ABC poll, 77 percent say Congress hasn’t done enough to prevent mass shootings and 62 percent say Trump hasn’t done enough. More people do think, though, that better mental health screening (77 percent) would prevent these shootings than gun control (58 percent).

In a Quinnipiac poll, people favor stricter gun laws by a 66-31 margin, 97 percent support universal background checks, 67 percent said it was too easy to buy a gun in the United States. The 66 percent wanting stricter laws is the highest number the Quinnipiac poll has ever recorded.

So, there is momentum. There is anger. There is anguish. There will be marches. And apparently a majority of Americans want to believe — even knowing that the NRA’s silence won’t last for much longer — that could be enough.

Photo by Bill Bradford for Creative Commons on Flickr. 


  1. Mike, this column was pretty good (except for the “Parkdale” goof). I see no comments on my screen, so I hope you got through to some readers so that they call Gardner and Bennet and raise hell. I don’t know where Bennet stands, but Gardner’s been a [new awesome word l just learned] psychophant with all the Republithugs taller than he is. I hope he pulls his head out and that his support for better gun control doesn’t depend on one of his own kids getting shot. Not one more kid should be shot and killed. The NRA and gun industry should be charged with all these murders…..kinda like the tobacco industry and bar owners, y’know?

  2. Biggest difference I’ve seen thus far: people being willing to point out and confront politicians who accept NRA donations.

    My own cynicism makes me think no change will come until there is a long-term anti-NRA organization with a similar number of members, annual conventions that draw candidates, sophisticated pr and voter mobilization efforts, and a clear and unwavering agenda.

    NRA and its backers supported a 10-20 year effort to develop a Constitutional theory resulting in the 2008 Supreme Court decision. DC v. Heller. There is NOTHING like that on the gun control side.

  3. As a left leaning firearms instructor, I’ve had a fly-on-the-wall view of the gun crowd for a couple of decades. I am for regulation, but I’m always curious, in a country with more guns than people, and knowing what I do about the near religious fervor these folks have for their weapons, how does that work?

  4. @Jay

    The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. No one said or expects this to be easy, quick or over with one regulation or new law.

    We will need to deal with this problem a long time because we were tolerant of this mistake for so long.

  5. The NRA, the Shooting Sports Federationm the Gun Owners of America and its local guns everywhere group, the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners intimidate elected officials at every level of government. It will remain that way so long as the gun industry retains its immunity, 2005’s Lawful Commerce in Arms Act protects everyone in the long chain of gun maker to gun seller, and We the People let those politicians get away with maintaining such an overbroad approach at protecting a lawful business instead of us, the American people.

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