By Charles D. Ellison
Emotions are running high. Outrage is spilling over like hot coffee bubbling from a broken Zeurig. And, the proverbial pitchforks are crowding about the palaces of state, local and federal power. Every parent wants something done now, and many – a week later – are still stunned by the thought of mere kids being savagely (and repeatedly) gunned down.
But, if you think anything is going to happen anytime soon, check yourself into a local course on civics and the political process.
Casual, non-political observers of Sandy Hook would be wise to take heed. Signs of obstacles to any “meaningful” gun control legislation were already emerging like acne sores on the Sunday talk show circuit only days after Newtown. Republicans aligned with the gun rights lobby were anxiously crafting a peculiar array of proposals gradually shifting the conversation away from the left. While the left screamed “about time” for sweeping weapons bans, the right pushed back with Dirty Harry visuals. From arming teachers to populating schools with trained, gun-toting “good guys.”
The key: messaging strokes at a bit of simple political genius. Taking high-powered, multi-round assault rifles and semi-automatics off WalMart shelves will take a lot of time. Months to years of legislative trench warfare on Capitol Hill and in the state houses. But, the gun lobby masterfully plays to the rawest of human and animal instincts: protecting the cubs.
A recent National Rifle Association press conference (you have to watch this – it’s better than Scandal) didn’t just offer a choice between being protected against evil madmen spraying bullets at innocent victims and, well, not. The real choice was time. Instant gratification versus the patience of Washington Job. “You want armed guards?” asks the NRA like used car salesman. “We got your armed guards. In fact, they’ll work for free.” That changes the whole dynamic. It’s like a re-spun, re-mixed Black Sheep single: You Can Get With This (tough ass, balding White MOFOs ready to blast any crazed nut) or You Can Wait For That (the slow moving turtle of task forces, debates, committee hearings, and long votes, etc.).
In terms of political calculus and crisis management, it’s brilliant. Detractors may call the NRA insensitive and inhuman. Twitter was ablaze with insults, snaps and back-of-the-school-bus rocks thrown at NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. But, at the end of the day if you’re the NRA, what can you do? “No one has addressed the most important the most pressing and immediate question we have faced: how do we protect our children now?” asked LaPierre.
Someone is giving them pretty damn good advice.
This debate is about buying time. More time and more wait means less done. While tragic, Sandy Hook’s timing was politically significant. It happened just when Congress is in the middle of a “lame duck” session and fiscal cliffhangers. Capitol Hill is ready to bounce; Members are eager to get back home and chill around the Christmas tree – so bad is that urge that they’re even willing to let the whole national piggy bank jump off the cliff. No one in Washington has the stomach for an eleventh debate on anything, much less gun control.
Which says a lot about how this will go down. If the massacre of 20 small kids won’t push lawmakers to immediate action on some level, what will?