Las Vegas shooting: Five reasons US gun control won’t happen
In the wake of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, gun control advocates are renewing calls for tightening regulation on firearms.
If the story sounds familiar, it’s because a similar dynamic has played out time and time again in recent years, after every new gut-wrenching incident of gun violence makes headlines.
On the federal level, at least, the interest and attention in new legislation has led to almost no action in decades, despite numerous polls showing widespread public support for measures like strengthened background checks and banning certain types of high-capacity gun magazines and military-style assault rifles.
With such a high death toll this time, perhaps the pressure for change will be greater. Here are five big obstacles that stand in the way.
The National Rifle Association is one of the most influential interest groups in US politics – not just because of the money it spends on lobbying politicians, but also because of the engagement of its 5 million members.
It opposes most proposals to strengthen firearm regulations and is behind efforts at both the federal and state levels to roll back many existing restrictions on gun ownership.
In 2016 the NRA spent $4m on lobbying and direct contributions to politicians as well as more than $50m on political advocacy, including an estimated $30m to help elect Donald Trump president.
Its overall annual budget is roughly $250m, allocated to educational programmes, gun facilities, membership events, sponsorships, legal advocacy and related efforts.
More than just the numbers, however, the NRA has developed a reputation in Washington as a political force that can make or break even the strongest politicians.
It grades politicians on their votes and directs its resources and those of its membership – both financial and organisational – to supporting its fiercest advocates and defeating staunch opponents.
As one former Republican congressman told the New York Times in 2013: “That was the one group where I said, ‘As long as I’m in office, I’m not bucking the NRA.'”
Could it change? Gun-control groups, backed by wealthy benefactors like former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have become more organised in recent years, attempting to match the NRA’s political might. As long as pro-gun groups keep racking up the legislative and electoral wins, however, they’ll still be king of the hill.
Most recent attempts to pass new federal laws regulating firearms are over before they ever really begin, stymied in the US House of Representatives, which has been in Republican hands since 2011.
In June 2016 a group of Democratic politicians staged a sit-in on the floor of the House to protest the Republican House leadership’s decision not to hold a vote on two gun-control bills.
The House tends to have a pro-gun-rights tilt for the same reason it has recently tended toward the Republican Party in numbers larger than the pure national congressional vote total would indicate.
Due to the way the lines of House congressional districts are drawn, many by Republican-controlled state legislatures, there are more “safe” seats for Republicans than there are for Democrats.
In these congressional districts, the politicians are more responsive to their primary voters, who tend to be motivated by hot-button issues like gun rights. The price for crossing these voters is much higher than alienating those who, while perhaps more in favour of gun control, do not vote in Republican primaries.
Demographics also play a part in the pro-gun sentiment in the House, as there are more rural districts with higher levels of gun ownership than there are urban ones. Racking up big pro-gun-control majorities in urban areas does little to change this political reality in the House.
Could it change? Unless there’s a flood of big-city liberals itching for the country life, demographics will be what they are. There have been some efforts to crack down on overly partisan gerrymandering, however. Barack Obama has made it one of his post-presidency goals, and the Supreme Court is currently considering a legal challenge to Wisconsin legislative districts that give a distinct advantage to Republicans. Getting politics fully out of line-drawing will be a tall task, however.
If a gun-control bill were to make it out of the House of Representatives, it would still face a challenge in the Senate, where the rural-urban divide plays itself out on the state level, as well. States dominated by big-city voters, such as New York, Massachusetts or California, are outnumbered by rural and Southern states with pro-gun sentiments.
The rules of the Senate can also thwart efforts to enact more stringent firearm regulation, thanks to the “filibuster” – a procedural hurdle that means most major pieces of legislation need the backing of 60 out of 100 senators to pass, rather than a simple 51-vote majority.