The massacre of the youngsters of Sandy Hook Elementary School was a kick in the guts. Coming on the cusp of Christmas, just as families were gathering for the holiday, the mindless slaughter in Newtown Connecticut filled us with fear, outrage and the determination to do something to change America’s culture of violence. Suddenly nothing else matters nearly as much as gun control; not the fiscal cliff, the deal ceiling, not Hurricane Sandy, Benghazi-gate, not Afghanistan, Syria, nor the president’s new cabinet, nothing. The fickle spotlight of public attention has fastened for this second on guns and what if anything the nation will do about gun violence.
It is crazy that a growing percentage of all the people so mistrust their own government that they want to keep arsenals of military-style assault weapons.
Seizing the moment, long-ignored gun control advocates mobilized; even as the stunned firearms industry and its reliable acolytes at the NRA, the Gun Owners of America and similar groups struggled initially to find an appropriate response to the obscene bloodshed. Stunned, if not embarrassed into silence by that widespread anguish, the powerful pro-gun lobby eventually rallied. Deciding the best defense was a good offense, it dug out its traditionally irresistible arguments against any new gun restrictions.
Marching under the banner of the broadest possible interpretation of the Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms, within two weeks, the pro-gun lobby resumed its arrogant swagger. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun. Even reforms as benign as mandatory criminal and mental health background checks for all gun purchasers were soon being condemned as harbingers of government confiscation of lawful firearms.
The tactic is tried and true. Whenever outrage builds for enhanced gun control, whether following the mass shooting at Virginia Tech or that involving Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords two years ago in Tucson, last summer’s bloodletting at the Aurora Colorado movie theater or the Milwaukee-area Sikh temple, the gun lobby has adroitly managed to weather the first rush of outrage and soon bounce back, confident that outside the big cities, most Americans don’t care much about limiting access to guns. If we did, there wouldn’t be almost 300 million weapons in private hands.
But what became clear once the holiday ended was that this time is different. The searing memory of the deaths of the innocent first-graders killed as their teachers and principal gave their lives trying to protect them did not fade. For the first time in a generation, Washington remains focused on moderating our promiscuous indifference to gun violence.
Vice President Joe Biden has been meeting the various interest groups and the hope is they will soon hammer out some modest reform; maybe making school violence a specific federal crime but it will be a tough.
My fear isn’t the fight, which is worthy and overdue. My fear is that the righteous battle over gun control, which disproportionately affects the Latino community, will distract from the president’s promise about comprehensive immigration reform in this first year of the second term.
True, he has been exceptionally kind to the immigrant community in recent months in contrast to his harsh, early if-you-catch-them-deport-them days as president. Whatever his reasons, Mr. Obama should be congratulated for making it easier now for immigrant families to remain together and so forth. But now the president must memorialize his commitment of reform to the immigrant community, the legal half of which voted for him overwhelmingly in November guaranteeing him the White House. It is not unreasonable to hope he won’t forget the Americans who helped him keep the job.
By all means stay the course on gun control. All of us understand its urgent necessity. It is crazy that a growing percentage of all the people so mistrust their own government that they want to keep arsenals of military-style assault weapons. By all means find a compromise that keeps the country safer and heals the doubts. But forget us not.
Geraldo Rivera is currently host of "Geraldo at Large" on Fox News Channel (FNC), which is also nationally syndicated by Twentieth Television. Rivera recently celebrated 40 years in journalism.