Opinion

Nicholas Wapshott

After Newtown, guns are one more rift in the GOP

By Nicholas Wapshott
December 19, 2012

When political parties lose after a bitterly fought electoral battle, they prefer to lick their wounds in private. The glare of publicity is not helpful in exploring what went wrong and charting a fresh course. The Republicans, however, find their election postmortem taking place in the full public gaze. When it comes to the most urgent issue confronting the nation, the fiscal cliff, they face an invidious choice. They must decide by Dec. 31 whether to persist in the stance they adopted at the election, saving the ultra-rich from higher taxation, or to raise taxes on all Americans. If they hold firm, they will be blamed for levying $1,200 a year on every middle-class family. That is not good news for the party of low taxation.

If their fiscal cliff dilemma were not bad enough, since the slaughter of the schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut, Republicans are set to defend a challenge to the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. Concerned, angry Americans are asking why lawmakers have failed to protect them and their children from arbitrary execution. The Republican leadership must now choose whether to join the president in finding a way to avoid similar massacres or face the electoral consequences. If they get that pivotal decision wrong, they risk being cast as coldhearted villains, out of touch with the moderate voters they need to win back the White House and the Senate.

Little wonder that Republicans backed by the National Rifle Association have made themselves scarce. Finding a Republican legislator to appear on camera to defend the status quo is as hard as finding someone to argue that hard drug dealers perform a valuable public service. NBC’s Meet the Press contacted all 31 NRA-backed senators for comment, and every last one kept his head below the barricade.

Failure to control guns is an overwhelmingly Republican issue. Of the 10 senators awarded an A-plus rating by the NRA, just one is a Democrat, Max Baucus of Montana. Of the 32 the NRA gives an A grade, six are Democrats: Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Mark Warner of Virginia. So far all six A-grade Democrats have acknowledged that the Newtown massacre demands a rethink on gun laws. By contrast, all the A and A-plus Republicans except Roy Blunt and Kelly Ayotte have kept schtum.

The deep Republican fissures ‑ between conservatives and libertarians, between movement conservatives and pragmatists, between the religious right and secularists, between fiscal hawks and economic moderates ‑ are not easy to pinpoint because of the hold the Tea Party and pressure groups like the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity have over the party and its leadership. Those who once learned to bargain in the corridors and lobbies of Capitol Hill to further the conservative cause are now obliged to keep their thoughts to themselves, mouth the mantra of conformity, and sign Grover Norquist’s no-tax-increases pledge or defend themselves in a hostile primary. Those who did not heed the threats include big beasts of the party Richard Lugar, Arlen Specter, Robert F. Bennett and Olympia Snowe. The Tea Party types who took their place – Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock and Ken Buck – were all rejected by voters in November.

The GOP is a once-pragmatic party that has become dogmatic, with those who consider conservative principles to be absolute steadily driving out those whose views reflect the changing public will. The notion laid down by the father of conservatism, Edmund Burke, that “all government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter” has given way to the unbending creed of the libertarian shrew Ayn Rand, who believed that “there are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil.” As all elections are won and lost in the center ground, hewing to principles however unpopular is a recipe for remaining in permanent opposition.

In the aftermath of the 2012 defeat, Republicans who thirst for power rather than wallow in the impotence of ideological purity had hoped to jettison part of the absolutist platform. Peggy Noonan, the grande dame of reasonable conservatism, made a plea for new thinking and tolerance of dissent in a piece illustrated with a GOP elephant whose mouth was gagged. “Republicans are now in the habit of editing their views,” she wrote. “The Bush White House suppressed dissent; talk-radio stars functioned as enforcers; the angrier parts of the base, on the Internet, attempted to silence critical thinkers. … Enough!” But her appeal for reason was overtaken by events; Adam Lanza went on the rampage, and movement Republicans began digging themselves deeper into a hole.

The impending battle in Congress over guns ensures that the broad policy reappraisal Noonan and others hoped for will be postponed, perhaps indefinitely. The failure of Republicans in Congress to respond to the tragic events in Newtown suggests that the vote will be strictly partisan, with the GOP holding out against the popular demand to address the issue with an open mind. It is widely acknowledged by moderate Republicans that their party’s similarly divisive policies on immigration, gay marriage, fiscal continence, low taxation, women’s rights, abortion, contraception, access to the ballot, entitlements, healthcare and the whole panoply of intolerance the GOP champions cannot be maintained if they are to offer voters a credible alternative in 2016.

This is bad news for rising stars like Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who was quick to volunteer a more benign policy toward illegal immigrants and has put his presidential ambitions at risk by proposing “a serious and comprehensive study of our laws to find new and better ways to prevent any more mass shootings.” And the GOP’s most gifted retail politician, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, has damaged himself, perhaps terminally, by hugging not only the middle ground but President Barack Obama, too. In little more than 10 minutes, the Newtown shooter not only brought 26 lives to a premature close, he may also have snuffed out the chances of a Republican revival.

Nicholas Wapshott’s Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics is published by W.W. Norton. Read extracts here.

PHOTO: A Glock handgun available in a raffle promotion is shown at Adventures Outdoors in Smyrna, Georgia, October 25, 2012. REUTERS/Tami Chappell

Comments
18 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

My wife is of the opinion that the country is about to undergo a sea change on guns. I disagree. The forces who are for guns are entrenched and well funded.

Although I’m not sure why killing a school room full of children is so much more morally deplorable than killing a bunch of young people on a college campus, or shooting random folks in a movie theater, people do seem more moved by this recent elementary school shooting.

So I’ve been thinking, how does the NRA/right wing dodge this one or somehow muddy the argument? And then I heard it. Some Republican representative was acknowledging that the recent shooting was deplorable and described it as “killing babies”. He actually applied the same wording that one would in an abortion discussion to the shooting of elementary school kids. Let the lunacy begin.

Posted by mcoleman | Report as abusive
 

We are still a young country, and in another 50 or 100 years the 2nd amendment will find itself modified or voided. The GOP will soon be folded in as the fiscally conservative wing of the Democratic party as the ultra-liberals break off into a green/socialist party, just look at Europe. The writing is on the wall for the GOP as they watch their children leaving their guns, and themselves, behind for life in the big city. As this nation continues to urbanize one by one the red states will turn blue. We can only hope to minimize future atrocities until then.

Posted by uncommonsense55 | Report as abusive
 

none of the DEM proposed changes would have prevented the NewTown shooting. yet they trot out the same stuff that failed thanks to their own legislative efforts.
Assault weapons ban reenacted (it sunsetted in 2004)
Large magazine ban (same)
Supposed gun show loophole (individuals are not allowed to use the instant check system that dealers use. why?)

Add mental illness info to the background check system. (oh wait DEMs won’t touch this one seriously. they would lose their base)

So a bunch of proposals that would not have stopped Adam in Newtown, would not have stopped Nidal Hassan at Ft. Hood. and likely won’t stop the next mass murderer.

/to a person fixated on death the gun is only a tool and there must be 50 ways to off that mutha’

Posted by VultureTX | Report as abusive
 

but not one word about the real issue which is a breakdown of our mental health system…Inanimate objects do not kill people…the person who has the inanimate object in their hands is the killer…the banning of assault style weapons only ensures that the ‘bad guys’ will have them…banning anything only makes it more appealing and you can bet it won’t stop humans killing other humans. History shows us this.

Posted by deecue | Report as abusive
 

When Australia instituted a gun ban, the crime rate went up 78%.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-oNMHNrS -8

Posted by baxterross | Report as abusive
 

Dear baxterross,
Can you prove causation?

Dear deecue,
Would the mentally ill be able to kill so many so quickly without your “inanimate objects”?

Posted by borisjimbo | Report as abusive
 

borisjimbo

yes they could it’s called using a car, one of the deadliest “Weapons” in America

Posted by VultureTX | Report as abusive
 

“Failure to control guns is an overwhelmingly Republican issue.” Perhaps this could be rephrased: “Standing up for the 2nd Amendment, the one that guarantees one’s ability to protect property so that the 1st amemndment can be maintained, is an overwhelmingly Republican issue.” Not surprisingly, this author takes the first approach,

The mere fact that so many anti-second amendment celebrities and politicians have called for NRA members to be shot shows that the culture is poisoned. Calling for real humans to be killed in the face of a massacre of children? It’s nonsensical at a baseline.

Posted by bbell37968 | Report as abusive
 

As usual, we liberals are snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

We are wasting an opportunity, and handing the conservatives more base-energizing (and expanding) ammunition in one incompetent stumble, cheering all the while.

Most of us aren’t getting the terms of this discussion wrong, we’re getting the problem itself wrong.

Further restricting firearms ownership when the problem is actually the social darwinism at all levels of society that leaves people to become so broken and desperate that they give in to their sick urge to take lives, does nothing.

The only two things that could actually significantly reduce firearms deaths – ending the Drug War and implementing single payer healthcare with on demand mental health and addiction services – seem mostly neglected in these discussions.

Anyone that actually cares about reducing violence of all types, and gun violence in particular, should be focusing on the CAUSES, not the SYMPTOM.

We should be flogging how the ACA would improve these services, not fapping about restricting the rights of the law abiding. We should be pushing to expand it to further improve these services.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world  /2012/12/17/guns-mass-killings-worldwid e/1776191/

We should be having the discussion about ending the drug war that creates the black market that creates and feeds the cartels and their satellite gangs and distribution networks. The flawed laws that cage casual users with hardened criminals in prisons that are more run by gangs than wardens or guards. Ie, the cause of most violence, particularly firearms violence.

http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/public ations/2011-national-gang-threat-assessm ent

Momentum is on our side, it’s up to us how to use it, how we frame the issue.

But here we are, discussing the symptom instead of addressing the actual problem.

It’s as if two sides of a partisan donation machine – the NRA and the equally malevolent Brady anti-gun lobby – are cynically manipulating their respective demographics for profit. Have no doubts, each requires the other to stampede their respective constituencies in the desired direction.

Focusing on anything beyond closing the gunshow loophole and improving mental health reporting will do absolutely nothing to curb violence.

CT is rated to be the fifth “best” state for gun laws according to the Brady Campaign which means they are more restrictive than 45 other states on various laws relating to firearms.”

Clearly that worked well for them on Friday.

An assault weapons ban or attempts to restrict magazine size will *cause* violence in the form of right wing terrorism, as demonstrated throughout the 90s.
http://thinkprogress.org/security/2012/0 4/19/467384/chart-right-wing-extremism-t error-threat-oklahoma-city/

An all out ban will cause even liberals like myself to think twice about the reasons behind the open insurrection that would result. And that doesn’t take into account the thousands of lives it would cost.

Assuming you could actually get any of these passed, common sense or not.
A complete waste of political capital.

Posted by ENDIF | Report as abusive
 

Please. Act intelligent. Anyone and everyone understands that a gun itself can not do the shooting. It is the person using this so-called harmless “inanimate object” that intends to murder human beings. But place this object made for death and destruction in the hands of a would-be murder and you have instant death. Add a powerful rapid-fire (assault) rifle, made to kill many humans in battle instantly, and you have massive deaths. Moreover, the person doesn’t even have to be mentally ill to murder, just upset or angry. It’s quick and easy, and tt happens every day at an alarming rate in the infamous United States. And, really, how often do people choose a car to murder a person? If they desire to kill numerous people what do they use? And the NRA, in effect, actively supports these people in their right to kill. They are their legal companions, hiding behind a law was never meant for this purpose. Truth is, the NRA is the organization most responsible for the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary. The boy-man was just the person who pulled the trigger. They (YOU) made it possible and therefore must take the consequences. Congratulations! May you never rest in peace.

Posted by Realityy101 | Report as abusive
 

“When Australia instituted a gun ban, the crime rate went up 78%.”
Sorry, but you are not referring to the firearn homicide rate.
Please note: “In 1996, 35 people were killed in the worst gun massacre in Australian history. But the next decade saw the firearm homicide rate fall by 59 per cent, and the firearm suicide rate fall by 65 per cent, without a corresponding rise in non-firearm deaths.” This was the effect of the new gun control law as well as the gun buy-back.
Let us be corect: A gun is not just an “inanimate object” but an instrument of death, sometimes massive deaths.

Posted by Realityy101 | Report as abusive
 

vulturetx, you may be dumb enough to be fooled by such an obtuse argument, but really: a car’s purpose is not to kill. Adam Lanza used the tools ‘as directed’. I will type slowly a c a r i s n o t a w e a p o n

Posted by Benny27 | Report as abusive
 

Guns are created for the explicit purpose to effectively kill any living object, including human beings. Assault guns (rapid-fire guns) are used for the purpose of battle to kill as many people as possible in short time. Is this what the 2nd amendment was about? Is it good for individuals to own such powerful weapons? The more guns the greater the death rate.

Posted by Realityy101 | Report as abusive
 

This looks like a crybaby article written by a diehard Liberal…No lawmaker can protect anyone from harms way, its not the guns, stooooopid.

Posted by lawgone | Report as abusive
 

Assault weapons and many other types were banned in Canada, and there are still people committing crimes with those types of guns in Canada.

When guns are totally banned in the U.S. and school shootings and street killings still happen due to the shooters making their own in the basement, what will be the excuse offered by the left? What will be the answer to the families of the dead when there is no real excuse.

Guns are not the problem and never have been. The Newtown shooter gave a number of advanced warnings and no one paid attention, until he opened fire. Guns are merely the easy excuse. Politicians don’t like the idea of assigning blame to the killer because the liberals sympathise with the killer and the left hints, ever so carefully, that his mental instability is the fault of society, but society votes and guns don’t so liberals and politicians put the blame where it will cost them the fewest votes.

Posted by ACRScout | Report as abusive
 

Benny27,

No a car is not a weapon, but all items deemed to be “weapons” are not objects intent on killing either. Knives have been used as weapons of war far longer than guns, yet today they are accepted as “tools” and are largely dismissed as “weapons” by the left in spite of the number of muders committed with them each year.

I have a variety of firearms in my home, for the past 38 years I have owned guns and for the past 30 years my kids have owned guns. To date, not one of them has taken a human life. We all enjoy target shooting and to a lesser degree we also hunt and we take from the field every animal we harvest. I am often amused but rarely surprised at the socialist ideals of the left, which come to light all too readily in this argument issue, where liberals have no qualms about pubishing the innocent along with the guilty and catagorizing all gun owners as people that must be regulated and stripped of their rights based on the actions of a very few.

Posted by ACRScout | Report as abusive
 

Lets see if I have this correct. Liberals want all assault weapons outlawed or confiscated. Now in order to do that some federal agency is going to have to pick up those assault weapons. Good luck on that one.

Posted by James77509 | Report as abusive
 

The AW ban would be lucky to get out of the senate most GOP’s are going to vote with the NRA here is why it’s easy to connect to gun owners on this. NRA only has to get some DEMS from pro gun states to vote with the NRA also. All the NRA will say is the next step is a ban on everything. Quick and easy message to get out. The dem’s have to try and get out a complicated message how they are going to ban this gun and that gun with pistol grips, or some gun Dianne thought looked evil as she looked though pictures. Most of the supporters of banning guns are small number of liberal activist. Normal folks really don’t care. Gun owners are way more motivated to email, write, and call there senator and complain because they have something to lose. Most know mass killings are few and far between why bother with trying to ban guns. 1994 AW ban only passed by 2 votes, and what happened in 1994 GOP took the house which had not happened in 30 years.

Posted by mrbroke | Report as abusive
 

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