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Shootings Echo Across Decades Without Gun Control Solutions

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0407/3533.html Shootings Echo Across Decades Without Gun Control Solutions By: Roger Simon April 16, 2007 05:18 PM EST
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 16, 2007
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      http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0407/3533.html

      Shootings Echo Across Decades Without Gun Control
      Solutions

      By: Roger Simon
      April 16, 2007 05:18 PM EST

      Remember the Wedgwood Baptist Church massacre in Fort
      Worth, Texas on Sept. 15, 1999?

      Probably not. Only seven people were killed at a teen
      service when Larry Gene Ashbrook sprayed the sanctuary
      with fire from two semi-automatic handguns before
      killing himself. He was angry at religion or
      something.

      It was nothing compared to what had happened less than
      five months earlier at Columbine High School in
      Littleton, Colorado.

      Columbine you remember. Everybody remembers Columbine.
      Twelve students and one teacher were killed by two
      teenagers who felt they weren’t popular enough. Or
      something.

      Columbine caused many schools to adopt a “zero
      tolerance” policy toward weapons and threats of
      violence.

      Which obviously didn’t do much to prevent the massacre
      at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., Monday in which
      at least 32 people were killed.

      But Wedgwood Baptist Church retains its small place in
      the history of gun violence in America, because it
      came during a presidential campaign and forced the
      candidates to talk about it.

      George W. Bush said: “I don't know of a law - - a
      governmental law - - that will put love in people's
      hearts. There seems to be a wave of evil passing
      through America now...but our hopes and our prayers
      have got to be that there is a more love in society.”

      Which was the classic Republican position: Guns don’t
      kill people; people without love in their hearts kill
      people.

      Al Gore took the classic Democratic position:
      Government has to do something.

      Gore went on “Larry King Live” and said that “assault
      weapons” like the 9 mm Ruger and the .380 AMT
      semiautomatic handguns that Ashbrook had used “should
      be banned.”

      “I think a lot of people have heard the tricky
      arguments and all of the rationalizations, and I think
      they just have had enough of it,” Gore said. “We have
      a flood of handguns that are too deadly. They’re in
      the wrong hands.”

      And Gore’s operatives made sure that reporters had
      copies of the 1997 law that Bush had signed barring
      prosecution of people who brought guns to churches or
      synagogues unless the houses of worship had posted
      notices alerting people that guns were not wanted.

      “Has it come to this?” Gore asked. “Are we not even
      safe in church anymore?”

      The Bush campaign lashed back angrily. “The American
      people are tired of politicians trying to politicize
      every tragedy,” Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said.
      “They are looking for leaders to help heal the
      country, not those who use tragedies to score
      political points.”

      Guns would play a big part in the outcome of the race.
      In his two terms as president, Bill Clinton had
      succeeded in making gun control a mainstream political
      issue and was able to convince hunters that banning
      assault rifles and cop-killer bullets would in no way
      harm their sport.

      Gore was not able to pull this off. Gore was not able
      to counter National Rifle Association attacks and was
      not able to reach across the cultural divide to
      hunters, many of whom were among the lower-income
      white males that Gore, in general, did poorly with.

      Had Gore won his home state of Tennessee, Clinton’s
      home state of Arkansas or the Democratic state of West
      Virginia, he would not have needed to win Florida in
      order to gain the presidency. But he lost them all.
      And guns had a lot to do with it.

      According to exit polls, some 48 percent of voters
      owned guns in 2000, up from 37 percent in 1996. (This
      did not necessarily mean more people owned guns, but
      rather that more gun owners went to the polls.) Among
      those owning guns, 61 percent voted for Bush.

      More significant, however, was what gun ownership did
      to other voting patterns: Overall, union households
      gave Gore 59 percent of their votes. But if there was
      a gun in that union household, the vote was split
      50-50 between Bush and Gore.

      From then on, Democrats have grown very reluctant to
      talk about gun control. It has become a radioactive
      issue. And a Republican who once was an ardent
      supporter of it, Rudy Giuliani, now says he supports
      the right of individuals to bear arms and that the
      states not the federal government should decide how to
      control guns.

      After Gore’s defeat, Terry McAuliffe, then chairman of
      the Democratic Party, was vocal in advising Democrats
      to abandon gun control as an issue in future
      elections.

      “I believe we ought to move it out, let the individual
      communities decide their gun laws and how guns ought
      to be treated,” he said. “It has had a devastating
      impact on elections because the NRA has targeted and
      spent millions of dollars distorting individual
      members’ views and Al Gore’s views.”

      Sen. Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, said after
      Gore’s loss: “It has been a disaster that the
      Democratic party has fallen to the Rosie O’Donnell
      reputation for getting rid of all the guns. That is a
      mindless approach, frankly. If you’re from a rural
      state like I am, you know there is nothing wrong with
      gun ownership, hunting, or self-defense.”

      The political reasoning was simple: If Democrats were
      going to win the presidency, they needed to win the
      South and rural voters. And you didn’t get the South
      and rural voters by being against guns.

      “We need people who believe in the basic lifestyle of
      rural areas,” Feingold said. “A lot of urban Democrats
      think gun ownership is weird. It isn’t weird. We need
      to give the American gun owner an agenda that does not
      include confiscation. Unlike abortion, the gun issue
      can be easily resolved by a meeting of minds somewhere
      in middle.”

      John McCain said after Columbine: “We have to reduce
      the availability of guns to children. We have to more
      clearly define what a gun show is and what an assault
      weapon is. But if you banned every gun, you would
      still have web sites that teach kids how to make pipe
      bombs and web sites that teach hatred. The Democrats
      blame it all on gun control and the Republicans blame
      it all on Hollywood. In reality, it’s multi-faceted.”

      Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who didn’t join
      the NRA until August, 2006, when he decided to run for
      president, now finds it politically advantageous to
      brag about being a hunter, even though he has rarely
      hunted.

      Presidential candidates, who usually flood the e-mail
      boxes of reporters with statements on everything under
      the sun, were very slow to send any e-mails or
      otherwise speak out on the shooting at Virginia Tech
      Monday.

      An exception was John Edwards, the former Democratic
      senator from North Carolina,
      who said at a rally in Nashville: “Our prayers go out
      to these young people – and it appears to be mostly
      students – and their families. God bless them. And
      it’s a terrible tragedy in America.”

      In a later written statement, Edwards and his wife,
      Elizabeth, said they were “simply heartbroken.”

      Romney issued a brief statement saying: "The entire
      nation grieves for the victims of this terrible
      tragedy that took place today on the campus of
      Virginia Tech. Our thoughts and prayers are with the
      victims, their families and the entire Virginia Tech
      community. Our full support is behind the law
      enforcement officials who are involved with
      stabilizing the situation and conducting an
      investigation."

      New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said: “This is a sad
      day and our hearts go out to the Virginia Tech
      community as it grieves this loss.”

      Giuliani Communications Director Katie Levinson issued
      a statement cancelling political events for Tuesday
      and saying: "Our nation mourns for those who were
      killed, prays for those who survived and stands
      shoulder to shoulder with the families, friends and
      loved ones of all touched by this horrific tragedy.
      Tomorrow is a day for prayer, reflection and unity. It
      is a time for our great country to come together.”

      President Bush said in a televised statement: “Our
      nation is shocked and saddened by the news of the
      shootings at Virginia Tech today….Schools should be
      places of safety and sanctuary and learning. When
      that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt in
      every American classroom and every American
      community.”

      Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) came to the House
      floor to lead a moment of silence, and said she also
      spoke for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).
      “The continued prayers of this Congress are with the
      students, their families, the faculty and the staff of
      Virginia Tech,” Pelosi said. “Leader Boehner joins me
      in extending our condolences to all concerned.”

      Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said: “The
      thoughts and prayers of all Americans are with the
      Virginia Tech family today. As we learn more about
      this horrific tragedy - - the deadliest shooting in
      our nation’s history - - it breaks our hearts and
      shakes us to our very cores. We pray for those who
      were lost and for the speedy recovery of the wounded.
      And we pray that America can find the strength to
      overcome our grief and outrage as we face this tragedy
      together.”

      Nobody mentioned gun control.
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