The Missing Movement for Gun Control
After the mass shooting of Amish schoolgirls in idyllic Lancaster County, anguished Pennsylvanians grappled with a question that has preoccupied Americans for decades: Will we ever get real gun control here?
Less than a week before the massacre, in which a 32-year-old milk-truck driver bound and executed five children and seriously injured five more, the state legislature had met in special session to consider a raft of crime-control bills, including a measure that would have limited sales of handguns to one per month per person. The measure failed, even though an estimated 2,000 people had marched on Harrisburg to demand its passage.
As Pennsylvania gun-control supporters mourn their losses — of legislation and of life — there is a glimmer of hopeful news for their fellow advocates nationwide: This time, at least, citizens showed up to demand action on guns.
In the postwar era, America has witnessed firearms-related horrors with numbing regularity: mass murders of children in otherwise peaceful schools, workplace massacres, homicide “epidemics” in urban neighborhoods, and sensational assassinations of beloved leaders. And while these episodes typically provoke a momentary outcry from frightened and angry citizens, none of those events has managed to spark an organized, sustained, grass-roots movement for stricter gun laws. Why?
The easy answer requires only three familiar letters: N-R-A. With four million members, the National Rifle Association enjoys a well-deserved reputation of invincibility. When Fortune magazine surveys Washington insiders about the most influential interest groups, the NRA routinely ranks at or near the top of the list. When scholars study the gun issue, whatever the question, the answer is inevitably “the mighty NRA.” Those observers are not misguided: The NRA is strong and effective. In an era of declining political participation, it has done a spectacular job of mobilizing its members, and it has won more political battles than it has lost.