Why did a relatively modest, very popular gun control bill fail? A lack of big-think words like "will" and "imagination"? Too little or too much intervention from the White House? Naw. Here are five of the many reasons:
1. An interest group imbalance
The gun control lobby might have resources now that it didn't have in the past, but its relationship with most lawmakers is nothing like the NRA's. It has not only kept sustained pressure on Democrats and Republicans, but has also actively cultivated relationships with key constituencies in their districts. The NRA is able to generate a lot of smoke without much fire. And politicians will instinctively react to the political pressure that is available to them at moments in time.
2. The disconnect between the tragedy and the proposed solutions
Background checks for the mentally ill, a ban on certain types of semi-automatic weapons, and even magazine clip restrictions would not have prevented the tragedies. Undoubtedly, they might have helped prevent future tragedies, and probably would have provided momentum for tougher state measures. But the nexus of the factors — mental illness, gun culture, personal history — is too complex for solution. Lawmakers can get away with thinking that a "yes" vote would have not retrospectively helped to reduce pain and suffering. It's weird thinking, but it works.
3. The lies and distortions of the NRA
Washington still hesitates to use the "L" word, and even though the media generally favors gun control, it hesitates to call out the NRA for its lies. Further, whenever the media calls out a generally conservative cause on something, the issue polarizes, even if vast majorities of the American people putatively support the underlying policy that is being lied about.
4. The myth of the "Bargaining Chip" strategy.
Or, rather, its failure in this instance. Megan McArdle explains it best:
5. The structure of the American Republic
Rural parts of rural states, and rural states, have significantly disproportionate power when numbers matter. And given the polarization typically associated with gun control, it split right along the big populous urban metropolis / small rural town border. The sad truth is that Americans who oppose gun restrictions oppose it more fiercely than Americans who support gun restrictions. That energy matters, and is multiplied by the distorted political franchise given to less populous states.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- How Scotland's independence movement lost the vote and still won everything
- Russia is stealthily threatening America with nuclear war
- Mike Huckabee's head-scratching advice to Christian voters
- Obama knows he can't really 'defeat' ISIS. Americans need to wake up to that reality, too.
Subscribe to the Week