The fact that the U.S. Senate is now at least discussing stricter gun laws is only thanks to pressure from below. But a breakthrough is not to be expected.
At the latest after the massacres of recent months – after Aurora, Oak Creek and Newtown – it seemed a matter of common sense that the U.S. Congress would look for ways to curb the circulation of firearms. Especially as new acts of deadly violence – and thus new arguments for gun control – are added every day: In the four months alone since the rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, 3,300 people have died from bullets in the United States.
And yet, without grassroots involvement, the debate would not have happened. The vote with which the Senate opened the debate on Thursday is not thanks to politicians, but to civil society. Churches, civil rights groups and, most importantly, victims’ families pooled their power to force their representatives to do their jobs.
It helped that the overwhelming majority of Americans – including the Republican base – now also demand more gun control. But still, it was an open question until the last moment whether the debate would even happen. After all, when it comes to firearms, much of the U.S. electorate listens not to those who elect them, but to those who fund them. In this case, the firearms lobby.
Its largest association, the National Rifle Association, controls and corrupts the entire political process: from election campaigns, to the work of congressmen, to media campaigns in which it cleverly combines patriotism and fear-mongering and hides the 6 billion dollar business with firearms and ammunition. It is gratifying that the U.S. public no longer wants to be harnessed to the NRA’s cart.
But at the same time, the bad news is unmistakable. That 31 senators voted against debate on Thursday is a democratic travesty. And that of the 68 others who are at least willing to debate, quite a few consider any additional gun control legislation unconstitutional is devastating.
Even if the Senate ends up passing a bill that is likely to be limited to background checks and not include a ban on the trade in semi-automatic weapons of war: It is unlikely to clear the hurdle of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. A start, then, not a breakthrough.