Fifteen months ago, as the nation recoiled in horror from the massacre of 20 children and six adults by a mentally ill man armed with three semiautomatic weapons, there were firm proclamations that this time would be different. The violence at that Newtown, Conn., elementary school, it was said, would finally lead the nation to come together and embrace some reasonable gun control laws.
Well, that didn’t last long. If anything, the national gun frenzy, fueled by the irresponsible lobbyists at the National Rifle Association, has intensified. Though some states have adopted laws tightening access to guns since Newtown, others have actually loosened their gun control regulations.
The latest state to move in the wrong direction is Georgia, where the Legislature last week approved the most extreme — indeed bizarre — set of gun laws in the nation. The bill is awaiting the governor’s signature.
Among the law’s absurdities: People with gun permits would be allowed to carry their weapons in unsecured areas of airports. It would allow loaded guns in bars (South Carolina recently approved that as well), unless the owner of the bar specifically objects. In some cases, guns could be brought into churches. The law would offer an “absolute defense” if a gun was used in the face of a violent attack, though it doesn’t appear to define exactly what constitutes a violent act. Georgia is already a “stand your ground” state. So envision this scenario: A gun-toting Georgian tries to enter a bar that bans guns and is confronted by a bouncer. Who, incidentally, may also be armed under the new law. You can imagine how that might play out.
The Washington Post’s editorial page has been firm in its opposition to the NRA’s abject disdain of the public good in pursuing its warped view of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms and its bullying approach to the political process. But the blame for this national insanity should not be placed entirely on the NRA. Politicians respond to the group’s pressure out of fear, knowing that their jobs often depend on low-turnout, one-party primaries in which fringe passions are amplified.
At the same time, public opinion has taken a puzzling, and depressing, turn. According to Gallup, in the weeks after the Newtown massacre, support for stricter gun control rose to 58 percent. By last October, it had ebbed to 49 percent.
To twist a cliche, with that attitude we — and Georgia — are getting the gun laws we deserve. But the next time an avoidable killing occurs in Georgia, an awful lot of people are going to have gunpowder residue mixed in with the blood on their hands.