Gun control after Aurora: Political opportunism or opportunity for conversation?

The tragic events in Aurora, Colorado should not be dismissed as just Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, July 23, 2012 – Following the horrific shooting tragedy in Aurora, Colorado last week, the debate surrounding gun rights in the United States has been revived by pundits, commentators, and lawmakers alike.

It is almost too easy to predict what will happen in media circles following events like this. Gun control advocates point their fingers straight at the NRA, gun rights advocates accuse them of compromising individual liberties, and “centrist” commentators decry the “politicization” of tragedy on both sides.

Those who lambaste the media (right-wing or left-wing) for improperly reporting the facts or for engaging in pure speculation are correct in their condemnation. Nothing is more damaging than trying to assign blame before all the facts emerge, and it’s impossible to know everything.

But that doesn’t mean it is not worth the conversation.

It is not the purpose of this article to question why it was so easy for James Holmes to acquire his cache of high-powered weaponry over the course of two months. Nor is it the purpose of this article to re-visit what few facts have emerged from the tragedy in Colorado last week.

The purpose of this article is to question why there is such heated opposition to even talking about stricter gun control policies following a series of national tragedies involving military-style automatic weapons.

There must be reasons why the President has had so little to say regarding any move toward establishing tighter gun restrictions following a number of mass shootings during his administration. There must be a story behind why so many lawmakers have avoided the issue like the plague since the 1990’s.

Perhaps the clues lie in public opinion. At least half of all Americans most recently surveyed have expressed reluctance to impose any restrictions on the types of weapons individuals can purchase or the amount of ammo they can acquire.

Perhaps the clues lie in legislation. The “Stand Your Ground” laws that came under scrutiny following the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida earlier this year come to mind.

In many cases, the law exonerates individuals from responsibility after using deadly force if they feel their personal safety is threatened. It has been criticized on the grounds that it encourages vigilantism, yet next-to-nothing has changed following Martin’s death.

The lack of any move toward re-establishing the Federal Assault Weapons Ban that expired in 2004 after being in place for 10 years is also telling. Although statistics show the ban had little effect on curtailing gun-related crime (as assault weapons are rarely used in those cases), assault rifles were the weapons of choice in Arizona, Colorado, and Virginia.

So to suggest that the lack of gun control policies had nothing to do with these events is a problem. To point out that cars or alcohol kill more people than guns fails to acknowledge the fact that cars and alcohol are not specifically designed to harm. To say that “tragedies happen” and that we should “just move on” is defeatist and disingenuous.

The Second Amendment is a central tenet in recent American political history. The right to bear arms is as fiercely protected as any other right in the United States and will remain in place as long as the Constitution remains the law of the land.

But the small-c conservative position on this tricky issue – that the validity of the status quo should remain completely unquestioned – is just as much a political position as one that calls for at the very least a conversation over gun control.

As for the argument that gun control measures would compromise individual liberties, it is worth pointing out that willfully eliminating any chance for a national conversation surrounding gun control by accusing one’s opponents of “politicizing” a tragedy is a totalitarian tendency itself. Once the debate stops, so does democracy.

The nation’s thoughts and prayers are with the victims. Although nothing can bring justice to this unspeakable act of violence, the perpetrator is in custody and will be tried in front of a jury of his peers. But more needs to be done. The first step should involve re-assessing certain assumptions regarding what can be done to prevent something like this from happening again.

For that to happen, the conversation must continue.

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Mike Lapointe

Mike is a young political writer interested in analyzing the complexities of American politics and society. His work has appeared on the Huffington Post, Digital Journal, and on his blog. He’s recently reported on the ‘Occupy’ movement, the Republican presidential primaries, and state politics in Florida.

He earned his Master of Arts in Comparative Political Science from the University of Western Ontario in October 2010, and will begin a Masters in Journalism at Carleton University in September 2012. He is currently based in Orlando, Florida. 


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