The outrage of teenagers at mass shootings at schools and the failure of Congress to take effective action in response has in a matter of days grown into a mass movement for gun control. Whether it will lead to any substantial action remains to be seen, but it faces daunting obstacles.
Constitutional law: The Supreme Court for decades interpreted the Second Amendment to the Constitution as granting the right to hold and use firearms to the militia, much as the Israelis and the Swiss train citizens in the use of arms but otherwise impose restrictions. But the 5-4 vote in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 broke sharply with previous jurisprudence, holding that the Second Amendment grants that right to individual citizens without any requirement for military training.
Though subsequent appellate court decisions have held that that is not an unrestricted right, and could be upheld by the Supreme Court, reversal of Heller would require a change in the composition of the court that does not appear likely.
The cash: There is so much money involved in the manufacture and sale of guns that the National Rifle Association and similar interests have ample resources to influence elections.
Racist fears: When people explain why they think it necessary to accumulate arsenals for the defense of their families, listen for the coded language. You may discern that they require protection from the specter of black people swarming out of the cities to rape and plunder. The fear of slave insurrections that haunted the antebellum South has been translated into modern terms.
The gun fetish: When people parade their open-carry enthusiasm and go into the streets and marketplaces with rifles slung over their shoulders, one notices immediately that as a group they are unprepossessing white guys. For them, the ownership and display of weaponry has been twisted into their sense of masculinity to a degree that a word has been coined for them: ammosexuals. Gun regulation will be perceived as a threat to their identities.
The consequences: Please, I am not saying that all gun owners and people who advocate a broad understanding of the Second Amendment are corrupted by money, racist, or sexually confused. But there are enough strongly committed people in those categories to come out in force in primary elections and general elections. Members of Congress are keenly aware of the risks inherent in voting for legislation to regulate guns.
So unless the current reaction to mass shootings in schools generates an equivalent personal commitment from people willing to go to the polls, along with enough money to counter the resources of the gun lobby, we can expect the shouting to die down as the teenagers return home, Congress to do nothing meaningful, and more bodies to be carried out of the nation’s schoolhouses.