No Surprise Here

It appears as though Congress is getting cold feet on the gun control issue. Pro-gun advocates in Washington were positively gloating on the talk shows on Sunday as they predicted that the Congress will come up empty on the issue of stricter gun laws– with the possible exception of more thorough background checks on prospective buyers of guns in the future. Even the relatively innocuous issue of high-capacity cartridge magazines seems doomed to be bypassed. As a recent Yahoo News story relates

Nearly a month after the massacre of 27 people in Newtown, Conn., lawmakers on Capitol Hill are dialing back expectations on what Congress can – or should – do on its own to curb gun violence.

After initial expressions of outrage, lawmakers and the White House are getting down to counting votes on what can actually be achieved on Capitol Hill, where limits on gun rights have has been a taboo for more than a decade.

What has happened is that the memories of the terrible events in Newtown, Connecticut have faded and the muscle of the NRA, which brags 100,000 brand spanking new members, has grown. Consequently the Congress has decided in its wisdom that, barring an executive order (which seems doubtful), things had better stay pretty much as they are. Even Vice President Joe Biden’s recent recommendations to lawmakers which are said to leave out of consideration the dreaded assault weapons will be weakened even further. And this despite the fact that the President recently proclaimed that no weapons should be left out of consideration.

The real problem here, of course, is that Congress really doesn’t worry about doing the right thing any more — if they ever did. They worry about re-election and they recall the gun legislation of 1994 after which the Democrats who supported that legislation were voted out of office as the Republicans assumed the majority; later Al Gore was defeated in his attempt to win the White House — with many thanks to the power of the NRA that went after the dirty Democrats for having the audacity to vote for stricter gun laws. This Congress has apparently decided — if the votes have been counted correctly — not to make the same mistake twice.

As the economist Joseph Schumpeter noted long ago, what it really comes down to is that we are dealing with professional politicians whose only concern is with winning votes and staying in office. They aren’t any good at doing much else and they know they have a good thing going in a job that requires no positive results. It’s all about self-interest: the hell with the “common good”; it’s a dated notion anyway. I am sure I am not the only one who has received phone calls requesting money for a Senator who will run again in two years. Two Years, for goodness sake!

Don’t get me wrong. I am not in a position to question the courage of members of this Congress. I am scared to death of one gun, much less 5 million of them — which the NRA boasts is its membership. In any event, the Congress will make the prudent choice and veer away from the moral high ground once again as the memories of the dead children in Sandy Hook School fade and the fat-cats who manufacture guns and support the NRA sit and gloat while their membership grows, their profits rise, and fearful people buy more of their weapons while they continue to threaten recalcitrant politicians with removal from office. It’s called “real-life politics, circa 2013” and it stinks.

Guns And Violence

It appears that in the fight against insane violence in this country V.P. Joe Biden will not even attempt to suggest the restriction of the sale of so-called assault weapons even though, according to HuffPost, “The president has been clear that Congress should reinstate the assault weapons ban and that avoiding this issue just because it’s been politically difficult in the past is not an option.” The results of Biden’s discussions with various groups interested in promoting or defeating tighter gun legislation will lack that one rather important item as the following news item attests:

Vice President Joe Biden announced Thursday that he will recommend new gun control measures to President Barack Obama, which include more comprehensive background checks on gun buyers and limits on the sizes of ammunition magazines. The proposal could lead to the most significant move on guns in 20 years, but one regulation highly coveted by gun control advocates was notably missing: a ban on assault weapons.

Apparently Biden and his group have decided that such an attempt would be an exercise in futility. The sale of such weapons has grown exponentially since the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut and the Vice President seems to be retreating from one rather important feature of any viable gun control legislation because it would simply mean spitting into the wind. Coincidentally, or not so coincidentally, the NRA announced recently that their membership has grown by 100,000 members since the Newtown shootings. As a result the NRA has been flexing its considerable muscle — and has apparently done so effectively.

So unless the president effectively intervenes, the final results of these recommendations by Joe Biden’s group, assuming that there will be some sort of legislation forthcoming, will not really move this country in the direction of sanity; we will remain an armed camp waiting for the slightest excuse to pull the trigger and take out someone we regard as particularly nasty. This does not bode well. We might do well to reflect on the nature of violence.

I can think of no one better to think with on this topic than Hannah Arendt who wrote a book on the subject in the late 60s because she saw that this country was headed in the direction of increasing violence and she sought to understand why and whether or not something could be done to prevent it. She concluded that, contrary to widespread opinion at the time, violence is the result of a sense of powerlessness. When a person or a group begins to feel it is losing power it resorts to violence. The solution, as she saw it, is for groups to take action, to become more involved. This is an interesting notion and one worth pondering.

It is decidedly the case that an increasing number of people in this country feel this sense of powerlessness and disinterest. As the country grows more populous, problems loom larger and solutions farther away, debt becomes an increasing fact of life, and the government depressingly inept, the citizens of this country do indeed have grounds for feeling powerless: what is a person to do? How do we get out of the bind we are in? These questions start to press in on every side. Couple this with the fact that we see violence all around us and the message we get from TV and the movies is that the way to solve problems is to pull out a gun and shoot someone and it would seem probable that violence is a likely alternative for a growing numbers of people.

Thus, it would seem, this nation is increasingly becoming an armed camp that finds violence an acceptable alternative. The government might choose to increase citizen involvement in governance and deal directly with the problems that face the majority of people on Main Street in order to reduce the sense of powerlessness. This would accord with Arendt’s suggestion. But that seems unlikely. We can expect, then, that violence will increase rather than decrease — especially in light of the fact that whatever laws might result from this government’s feeble attempts to halt the sales of violent weapons will fall far short of where any sane person would want them to fall.

At a time when we should be thinking of the sternest possible steps to curb violence it seems we are to be handed a band-aid. Unless the president can persuade a reluctant Congress to do the right thing we are in for more rough times. Hold on to your hats!.