Based on various observations over the holiday season, it's becoming increasingly clear that new gun control legislation will be the biggest political fight of 2013, perhaps on par with the ongoing negotiations on the deficit and debt.
Yes, I know. It's difficult to believe considering the shocking obscenity of Sandy Hook, but as the trauma wears off and with the holidays providing a cooling-off period, the Republicans will probably ease back into their mutually-masturbatory relationship with the NRA and resist new legislation against assault rifles and extended ammunition magazines. And those last two things are part of the problem. It appears as if the Democrats are predictably opening the fight with an already compromised position: basically more of the same gun control legislation that barely seems to stick to the wall.
While the Republicans are leading with supremely radical ideas for mitigating gun massacres in schools alone (they're occurring in more places than just schools, by the way), the Democrats ought to be taking a similarly tough opening position. They ought to be starting with broader gun control laws that severely limit both the purchasing of firearms as well as the policing of firearms once they're attained. Specifically, the Democrats would do well to start with the Australian law as a template. It includes an assault weapons ban, sure, but also includes a comprehensive buy-back program; a requirement that gun owners have a “genuine reason” for purchasing a gun that doesn't include self-defense; a ban on private gun sales; and maybe add an annual gun registration renewal process similar to car registrations as well as a ban on extended magazines and more comprehensive background checks. Trigger locks, too.
Meanwhile, there should be grants for nonprofits who advocate against the gun culture, essentially engaging in the same PR campaign as the anti-smoking effort in order to break the fatal ties between citizenship, patriotism, masculinity and gun ownership. Beneath it all, it wouldn't be a bad idea to quietly launch an effort to repeal the Second Amendment, or at least to define it in a more specific way: one of the many reasons why the gun control debate could be exceedingly difficult.
Instead, the Democrats are asking -- and politely so -- for a few comparatively minor things and hoping there will be enough Republican support to make them so. Naturally, these laws will be compromised and whittled down, while the Republican ideas will be incorporated with or without a say-so from the president.
And what are those Republican ideas? Republican governors and state legislators are already lining up in support of armingschool officials. Others are calling for a national list of people suffering from mental illnesses, and there appears to be an NRA-initiated move to attack video games and other forms of media violence. The parallel goals are to once again to sidetrack the debate away from gun control, while amplifying the post-9/11 police-state hysteria with radical security measures -- dangerously counterattacking would-be gunmen with armed (and probably outsourced) paramilitary thugs.
The president said on Meet the Press yesterday that he's "skeptical" about the idea of arming school officials -- his polite way of saying that it's an awful idea. Beyond the debate in Congress over new gun control legislation, this is an area that could prove to be the most harrowing. If the president wants to prevent the states from arming principals or stationing Blackwater-style contractors at every entrance, themselves packing AR15s, he and the Democrats need to immediately pass laws against the deployment of armed security in schools. But the states will have plenty of justifications for overruling the federal government since state and local governments essentially run public schools and cover nearly 90 percent of public school budgets. If the states proceed with this idea, it's probably going to happen irrespective of the president's objections. However, Democrats aren't as powerless and could block the law at the state level.
Suffice to say, there needs to be serious changes in the American attitude regarding guns -- the gun culture -- and there's no way to achieve those changes if Democrats acquiesce and settle for minor fixes rather than pursuing the bigger ideas. The Republicans will surely reach for changes in the wrong direction while skewing the debate towards inconsequential tangents, and the Democrats needs to be ready to respond with equal an opposite force. 2013 could be the year when the gun culture begins to be dismantled, or it could be the year when too much compromise and not enough urgency allowed it to continue virtually unabated.