The mass shooting in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater on Friday morning — as senseless and incomprehensible as it is, and as these shootings always are — has once again reopened the perennial debate over gun laws in this country. It's a familiar cycle: The nation is shocked. People light candles at the scene of the crime. Politicians, some of them at least, vow to make changes. The political vitriol briefly cools.
Then the emotions fade, life returns to normal — and it happens again.
In the wake of Aurora (Americans are quite efficient at using just one word to describe their tragedies), don't look for any changes to the nation's gun laws. Even in Colorado, now home to two of the worst U.S. massacres, including 1999's Columbine High School shootings, support for individual gun rights remains robust. Some gun advocates have even suggested that if moviegoers had been armed, they might have been better able to defend against the gunman in the darkened, smoky theater.
The White House, well aware that swing-state Colorado (home of nine electoral votes) favors gun rights, is trying to play both sides of the issue. Flying to Colorado on Air Force One with the president on Sunday, press secretary Jay Carney emphasized that Obama is adamant about protecting the Second Amendment, while ensuring that "we're not allowing weapons into the hands of people who should not have them."
Destroy the Second Amendment? Obama would be lucky to get a resolution hailing Mother's Day through the next Congress.
Yet the firearms industry doesn't buy the first part of Carney's statement. Gun manufacturers and the industry's powerful lobbying arm, the National Rifle Association (NRA), are convinced that Obama's secret strategy is to wait until he's re-elected — and then chip away at gun rights. Earlier this year, NRA chief Wayne LaPierre expressed that very fear:
"Lip service to gun owners is just part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment during his second term. We see the president's strategy crystal clear: Get re-elected and, with no more elections to worry about, get busy dismantling and destroying our firearms' freedom, erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights, and excise it from the U.S. Constitution... When the sun goes down on election day Barack Obama will have America's gun owners to thank for his defeat."
Dismantle and destroy? Republicans are expected to control the next House, and come close to, if not regain, the Senate. If it plays out that way on the Hill, and Obama is re-elected, he'd be lucky to get a resolution hailing Mother's Day through the next Congress. And here's the great irony: The Obama presidency has actually been good for the gun industry. So good, in fact, that the industry came up with the term "the Obama effect" to describe the boost. Here, a few numbers that show how gun business has fared under President Obama:
· When Obama was sworn in, the U.S. firearms business was a $19 billion industry. Last year: $31 billion, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF)
· Job growth in the industry over the same time frame: Up 30 percent (NSSF)
· The gun industry's record prosperity is also reflected in Ruger sales, up 98 percent since 2009, and Winchester ammo sales, which are up 33 percent.
· The federal government's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) reports big increases in background checks for gun purchases (up 20 months in a row through January 2012).
"Some people jokingly refer to [Obama] as the salesman of the year for the industry," says NSSF's Senior Vice President Lawrence Keane.
Instead of vilifying Obama, the gun industry should thank its lucky stars for the Obama presidency. To put it bluntly: He's good for business. There's no such fear of Mitt Romney in this regard. The guy who's the stronger supporter of gun rights may actually be worse for business. But everyone needs a villain — or the perception of one — to rally the troops.
Still, it may well be that Obama's own words helped foster that perception of villainy, sparking the gun boom. Gun owners still remember his condescending remark during the 2008 campaign that "they cling to guns or religion, or antipathy toward people who aren't like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
The context of Obama's larger comment was that small, rural communities have been economically decimated over the years (which is true) and let down by previous presidents — he specifically mentioned Bill Clinton and George W. Bush — leaving them with nothing to "cling to." Insulting voters generally isn't the way to win elections — even though the older, white, rural, blue-collar constituency wasn't going to back Obama anyway — which is why he made that speech at a San Francisco fundraising event. Nevertheless, the anger in the gun community, the fallout of that speech, hasn't gone away, and while the industry has profited immensely from exploiting Obama's comments, that won't stop it from assailing him come Election Day.