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Stricter gun laws face an uphill struggle

Even in ‘blue’ Illinois, pro-gun lobby is strong

It’s difficult to argue with an argument made by the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent shortly after news had broken of the mass murder at a Connecticut school.

“If today’s shooting doesn’t prompt action on guns,” Sargent wrote on his Twitter account, “then nothing ever will.”

You’d think that the shocking horror of 20 children and six adults murdered at that school by a crazed gunman using a semiautomatic assault rifle with high-capacity ammunition magazines would prompt some action, either nationally or at least locally.

But nationally, the NRA has almost completely embedded itself within the Republican Party and allied itself closely with congressional GOP leaders. As a result, when one of its own members (Gabby Giffords) was nearly killed during an Arizona mass murder by yet another crazed gunman, the U.S. Congress did little more than applaud her return to the chamber.

The NRA spent millions this year attempting to defeat President Obama and electing GOP congressional candidates. In Illinois, many, if not most, downstate Democrats actively seek the NRA’s backing, partially to help counter attacks that they are “too liberal” for their districts. Some of the most actively pro-gun politicians we have in this state are Democratic legislators from southern Illinois.

As downstate has tended to trend ever more conservative, Chicago Democratic legislative leaders, who have wanted to maintain their solid grip on power, have responded by not pressing too hard on the region’s most sensitive hot-button issues – and gun control ranks right up at the top of that list.

Senate President John Cullerton, one of the most ardent gun control proponents in the state, pledged time and again during this year’s campaign not to stand in the way of a concealed-carry floor vote in his chamber.

And while it may be difficult to contemplate this at the moment, by the time next year’s spring session gears up in earnest, that terrible Connecticut horror may well have faded from memory, as other mass shootings have in the past.

The Poynter Institute posted a very helpful guide for journalists on its website not long after the Connecticut shooting. The guide included a reference to a 2011 University of Chicago study that found the number of households owning guns has declined from almost 50 percent in 1973 to just 32 percent in 2010. The study found that the number of actual gun owners had declined about 10 percent during the same period.

But even with declining gun ownership, far fewer people are in favor of tougher gun control laws than they were just 20 years ago. The Institute pointed to a Gallup article, which noted that 78 percent of Americans wanted to make laws “more strict” in 1990, compared to just 44 percent in 2010. In 1959, according to Gallup, 60 percent of Americans supported a ban on handgun possession by everyone not in law enforcement. By 2010, that was down to 29 percent.

According toGallup, recent polling shows that 46 percent of Americans believe that the “federal government poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens,” which Gallup indicates could be driving the pro-gun sentiment.

Then again, an August poll taken for CNN showed that 57 percent of Americans wanted a ban on the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons, and 60 percent wanted a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips. Both of those items were used in Connecticut, plus bullets that are designed to break apart inside human bodies in order to do maximum damage.

But the Illinois State Rifle Association is in no mood to discuss any sort of compromise.

The group sent a statement to its members the Sunday after the shooting assuring them: “We will not be party to any sort of ‘compromise’ that limits free exercise of your 2nd Amendment rights nor limits the types or numbers of firearms that you may own. At this time, the only thing we’re really interested in discussing is the immediate passage of concealed carry in Illinois as per the recent court order.”

Clearly, any legislation that addresses this shooting will have to be passed over the strong opposition of the pro-gun groups. And if history is any guide, that will be extraordinarily difficult. Even in liberal, “blue” Illinois, gun control has been stymied for the past decade. It’s hard to see right now how that trend can be broken.

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