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Post-Newtown reality check

On this feast day, a sobering finding: Gallup finds that 54 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of the National Rifle Association, while 38 percent have an unfavorable opinion. The public does not agree with all the NRA's positions, but this shows that gun control advocates have a steep uphill battle.

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.



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John Prior - ". . . would women really have more abortions just because abortion was illegal?"One argument: women would have abortions, not above ground but in back alley abortion mills. In the absence of proper medical attention and instruction in more responsible behavior that is available above ground many women would then have multiple abortions, more than is already the case.Another argument that restricting abortions is counter-productive rests not on the number of abortions but on the indirect effect of high abortion rates on crime rates. Steven Leavitt, the freakonomics author, made this argument a few years ago and it's often heard sotto voce even in the best of places. To simplify the argument, since most abortions occur among the "riff-raff" a reduction in abortions would only lead to more unwanted poverty-stricken children creating in a few years an explosion of violence and a dramatic increase in welfare cases in the inner cities.As you properly recognized, these are not my arguments. But I notice that it's easy to be "defeatist" regarding one problem that seems widespread and popular but regarding another problem even when seen as overwhelming "we must do something even if we don't know that it will be effective" (and perhaps demonize our opponents in the process.)Irene Baldwin asks "Where ARE the pro-lifers on gun violence?"We might also ask "Where ARE the gun controllers on abortion."Actually I would guess that pro-lifers favor gun control more than pro-choicers. It would be interesting to see a study.

Yes. Sobering.

Well, if those slopes are a continued trend, we can hope to have gun control in around 13 years.

Might it be notable that the chart also shows that the favorable rating has dropped six points since 2005, and seems to be on a decline? Possible sidenote of interest from the sticks: Local NRA members put on hunter safety programs for young people in rural areas like mine that are very good. Yeah, there's talk about our constitutional right to own a gun--and it's an opportunity to recruit members--but the program also covered a lot of info about the responsibilities of gun ownership and staying safe.Frankly, this was far more comprehensive and useful training than I got from Dad and Grandpa when we went bird hunting, and if my kid had shown an interest in hunting, I would have enrolled him in the program. There is also a state DNR hunter education course available on line, but I'm not sure that it makes the same impact as a responsible adult bringing these lessons home "live."

Left on abortion = Right on gun control: The same arguments can be used by either side. For example, the practice is too widespread to be curbed by laws. Any restrictive policy is likely to be futile or, even worse, counter-productive. Root causes (inequality, oppression, cultural laxity) must be addressed before the more popular cosmetic changes which are merely a distraction. Policy entrepreneurs are hypocritical, inconsistent etc., etc.

Where ARE the pro-lifers on gun violence?

"Any restrictive policy is likely to be futile or, even worse, counter-productive."Patrick Malloy,I understand the argument is not your argument, and I suppose that some people might feel a need to acquire more guns if they were made illegal. But would women really have more abortions just because abortion was illegal? It seems like a very cumbersome form of civil disobedience.

From an American political point of view, the banning of firearms is not possible, and probably not even desirable. The NRA is successful because it has been consistent in setting up a straw-man argument: that the Government, specifically the Federal Government, wants to take away your right to have firearms. To a great many people, that is the argument and is as deep as their thinking goes on the matter. People who use guns to commit illegal acts are, by definition criminals, or perhaps mentally ill.Changing this will take time and persistence. First one needs to change the argument. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court dealt gun control advocates a blow by finding an individual right to own guns, separate from any organized militia, and complete ignoring the opening phrase of the Second Amendment.Still, the Court did allow for reasonable regulations and restrictions, without defining parameters. I believe that a long-term successful strategy can be structured around regulation, licensing and enforcement. Many sports users of firearms are already compliant with a number of hunting regulations, including the size of gun magazines, types of bullets, carrying restrictions, etc. We need to expand these kinds of regulations to include firearms of all types, such as limiting the size of magazines, and perhaps elimination removable magazines altogether. We need to fight the expansion and reverse the trend of concealed carry permits. We need to pass and enforce sentencing laws for crimes where a firearm is present, and make it provision not amenable to plea bargain.There are lots of things that can be done, and accomplished, if the effort is coordinated and sustained. One thing that will not work, in my opinion, is expending a lot of energy trying to define and restrict 'assault-style' weapons. The fact is that they are used in only a small number of crimes, compared to handguns. By diverting our energies into this one narrow area, we get hung up in definitions and debate without ever getting around to the much larger problem.Anyway, that's one person's opinion.

The poll can be misinterpreted and I believe it is. Many people who are members of the NRA do support wiser regulations. Within the organization they are fighting the few at the top who seeem to profit most from the proliferation of guns. We have to distiguish well. S/he who distinguishes well knows well. For Gene and others who are jolted by my Latin. Here is a translation of the English. "Qui bene distinguit, bene cognoscit."

By the way, the PPP Poll found a majority in FAVOR of restricting assault weapons, difference with Gallup is in how the question was asked.

But Patrick, I ask not about the anti-abortion people or the anti-gun people, or where they are on the other issue; I'm asking specifically but about that universe of people who publicly identify themselves as "pro-life" and who publicly advocate on "life" issues. I would think gun violence would be a big issue for that movement, but I haven't read anything at all from them in the paper. The National Right to Life people, for example. Their homepage is completely silent on this.

jbruns ==Nate Silver has pointed out that in recent years the Gallup poll in national elections has tended to predict tht conservative candidates are stronger than they actually prove to be. In other words, Gallup leans towards the conservatives. Maybe this has something to do with its NRA polls as well.

Here's Nate's Nov. 10 blog which shows how the different polling organizations did with the Obama-Romney election. Gallup was dead last. It was wrong by over 7 points.

What the far left simply cant process is that tragedies like Newton understandably increase support for the 2nd amendment, so that we can better defend ourselves. Really, what is so hard to understand about that?

@Mark. You're right. People often respond illogically to events that are hard to comprehend. @Ann. In this case I think there is an obvious difference in how the question was posed.

What the far right simply can't process is that more guns is no more a solution to gun violence than is more alcohol a response to drunk driving.

And it is beyond ridiculous to try and dismiss the majority of Americans who oppose the NRA "more guns" proposals as "far left": PTAs, school districts and police organizations have all said the NRA proposal is a bad one. Main Street America, where common sense prevails, is overwhelming against it.

jbruns/Irene--Despite everything, all 3 of us wish that one of the teachers in Newtown was trained in the use of firearms, and had the means to put down the gunman, no? I think we should start from that shared wish, and build out.

Mark, there you go again!

Bill, your insightful comments are always most welcome. Why not share some of them with us?

Mark, As long as we're wishing, I wish the fellow had never had access to a cache of firearms. I wish he had, instead, gone to the school with a case of spray paint. But, as they say, 'if wishes were fishes..." Think about it. Who among the teachers would be armed? All of them? Just the principal? Just the gym teacher? Or a random selection? Then, how would they be trained? Keep in mind that statistically, NO armed teacher would EVER be called upon to use her gun in an intervention with an armed madman. So the training would all be theoretical. We know that trained police officers, who are rarely called upon to use their weapon, often miss (see Columbine) or shoot each other or innocent bystanders. What chance would a social science teacher have of intervening successfully and safely?Then there is the question of liability. Let's say a teacher shoots someone, who is liable, particularly if that person is a school kid or a fellow teacher, or a policeman? One incident would likely bankrupt the school district.And, of course, there is message it sends children. Is our country so lawless that we need teachers to be armed? As my son said, 'nothing shouts freedom like armed teachers in elementary schools.'I concede that there are schools and districts where sworn police officers are prudently present. But that's not out of the chance of the crazed mass killer, it is because of drugs and violence in our communities. But I will never concede that the general answer to shootings will be more shooting.Finally, an anecdote. I actually did wear a sidearm into a classroom, and into a Catholic orphanage as well. It was in Vietnam as part of a Civil Action Team, and we taught in the school and worked to improve the conditions in the orphanage as well as play with the kids some. We were embarrassed to wear the guns, but it was required -- not to protect the kids, but for self protection. And that's pretty much the limited use of a sidearm, self-protection. It would be little use against a determined individual with a long gun.

I'm a pro lifer[anti legalized abortion]and where am I on gun violence?I'm against gun violence.If you ask where am I on gun possession or assault weapons then that is more complicated.As an apartment dweller in a congested city where my police department is but a few blocks away-I can distance myself from being part of the pervasive gun culture in america.I do recognize that a belief in owning guns is part of americana.For many americans owning a gun is not only something they own for pragmatic reasons[living in a rural area where without a gun in their home they feel vulnerable to intruders]but also as a cultural belief that you cannot be said to be truly free if you don't own a weapon.That ingrained belief-that only if you own a weapon can you feel secure that you are not at the mercy of the state-is why they belive we have a second amendment and why they interpret that amendent to mean every one can own weapon[s.]I myself from the security of living in a big city with a belief in a cental government would interpret a militia to mean a police department ,or state milita or a national guard.But for many americans owning a weapon is an essential part of what it means to be an american.Though I as a new yorker do not share or partake of that cultural[or subculture dependeng on the percentages of people who think this way] -I recognize it exists and though I can take a pristine hands off -I abhore guns- attitude as an urban dweller-I believe people have a right to their cultural[or subcultural] beliefs.Obviously there is a problem though as we now are faced with an arms race here at home.If having one hand gun or one rifle was once enough to make a person feel secure from intruders-now without an assault weapon to match the "bad guys" military style assault weapon the gun owner now feels vulnerable to both the bad guy and feels the ever ingrained need to be able to ward off the[potential] tyranny of the state.I don't know what the solution is.There is a polarized impasse in the culture at large.I know in the past that right wingers on cultural issues-though they resist at first the changing laws imposed by the left-eventually they come along and accept them.I don't know if the same would happen over time concerning more restrictive gun laws. I do believe that our glorification of all things military and our never ending wars abroad have the effect of increased paranoia against our own governemnt and increased polarization.People are walking around with visions of apocalyptic totalizing good vs. evil, us vs. them warfare dancing in their heads.We do partake in a culture of death where the individual is not as important as the cause.[cold blooded assasinations, detentions without trial in prisons outside the law,drone strikes to get one bad guy and everyone around him gets killed too but that's acceptable and yes-abortion and euthanasia].Us vs. them can mean people abroad or the government or even our fellow citizen.We glorify violence done by our military "heros" , graphic war games proliferate ,yet act surprised when our own"mentally ill" citizens who are seeped in this glorification of violence ,this culture of death bring it home.

What about this deal? Gregory waving an ammo-clip around on TV - in direct violation of the local gun laws with NBC and other members of the mainstream media saying it is nothing because it is obvious he was not going to commit a crime. I do not have a gun, but my brother does and it is obvious enough that he is not going to commit a crime either.Should the media elite not be subjected to the same laws under which the rest of us must operate? Why should they get a pass when the avergage Joe certainly would not? I do not think civilians should be allowed to have machine guns, but gnorance of the law is no excuse and if the high and mighties at NBC - with the vast staff and resources they have at their beckon call - can't even be bothered to do a quick review of the local gun laws, why should the rest of us worry about obeying gun control laws?Jeez!

I am no gun-guy, but one fact of modern life is that we (wisely it seems) routinely station armed security guards in areas where we think somehow things have a chance to become dangerous; airports, government buildings, banks, etc..Considering what has happened recently in Newtown, why would we not allow a school district if the people in that district so choose to station armed police or armed security guards on those properties? If a school district in Chicago (for example) thinks they might be at risk for some sort of violent outburst from one of the assorted maniacs they allow to wander the streets of that city, it seems they should be allowed to use part of their budget to hire armed guards.Obviously not all schools would need this, but those that want to hire guards should be allowed to as long as they use local money to finance it.I just do not want to see yet another federal solution to what in fact is a local problem; I think the notion of subsidiarity should prevail. I think it would be wrong if the Federal Department of Education would set up a federal school security force (like the TSA for airports), with fat lazy federal employees feeding at the government trough in perpetuity. The TSA should be run by and paid for by the airlines, not the federal government and in fact I agreed with Reagan when he wanted to close the Federal Department of Education. I cannot think of one worthwhile thing that either of those departments has ever accomplished.

David Gregory waving an ammo-clip around on TV in direct violation of the local gun laws with NBC and other members of the mainstream media saying it is nothing because it is obvious he was not going to commit a crime.

I am not familiar with the incident and did not watch the program but - yes - clearly he should be charged.I am not sure what his point was though. If it was to demonstrate the lack of enforcability of gun laws, then he surely succeeded.If it was to show the ease of access, he also succeeded.However, the law should be respected. If I am not mistaken, Thomas Aquinas argued against excessive laws because then breaking the law becomes a trivial matter.But laws need to be enforced and strict penalties DOES deter behaviour. Look at impaired driving. At one time it was a joke, after numerous deaths, most countries cracked down seriously. Heavy fines, suspension of licence, possible night in jail, doubling insurance rates all, I think, have had their effrect.Bottom line, if the law is on the books enforce it. I had a close friend who died as a result of a hunting accident. It was his sbiling who shot him accidentally. Clearly and accident and very tragic. The sibling was still charged with careless use of a firearm and this was pychologically important for him in terms of accountability and important for the public as well.If David Gregory is not charged and convicted, after blantantly defying them. then all this talk of gun control laws will be rendered moot.

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