Why Can't We Pass Any New Gun Legislation?

About 30 Americans are killed by firearms every day. So why is it so hard to get anything done?

Thursday's mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon is the most recent of 264 mass shootings in the United States this year. The tragedy elicited a powerful, frustrated reaction from President Obama, who lamented, "our thoughts and prayers are not enough."

Despite the President's repeated pleas for more common sense gun regulations, Congress has not passed any significant new gun control legislation during his entire term in office.


In fact, since the Columbine shooting spree in 1999, Congress has passed only a single new major gun measure -- a law improving national background checks, which followed 2007's Virginia Tech shooting.

More than 30 Americans are killed on average by firearms every day. So why is it so hard to get anything done?

Members of Congress are afraid.

"We're stuck in that old mentality that if you vote for gun legislation the NRA will get them kicked out of their seat," Colin Goddard, senior policy advocate at Everytown for Gun Safety and Virginia Tech shooting survivor, told MTV News. "[That's] only because [the NRA] built a single-issue voting bloc over dozens of years that still equates gun control with someone kicking down your doors and taking your guns, which has caused people to be extremely aggressive on this issue."

The National Rifle Association has spent close to $1.8 million this year alone on lobbying efforts, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That's a huge amount of money, Goddard said, that's basically aimed at convincing public officials to do nothing about changing the nations's gun laws.

"The NRA has done a great job of scaring the s--t out of their membership and turning them into single issue voters who show up at the polls."

But the NRA isn't actually as powerful as it seems.


The closest Congress got to enacting new legislation was in 2013, but, ironically, it was thanks to the help of the NRA that the effort failed, according to political scientist Robert Spitzer, a professor at the State University of New York Cortland and author of a number of books on gun control -- including this year's Guns Across America: Reconciling Gun Rules and Rights.

"The NRA was involved in that effort and the even had some pro-gun provisions in that bill, but when word got out that the NRA was working on legislation some pro-gun supporters rose up and attacked and that helped kill the bill in the spring of 2013," Spitzer told MTV News.

What's often left unsaid, according to Spitzer's research, is that the threat politicians allegedly face of being run out of office if they cross the NRA is overhyped, at best.

"The NRA doesn't always win and, when you look at the data to see whether groups like the NRA are successful in defeating people they don't like and electing ones they do, their batting average is not great," he said. "What they do have is very strong grass-roots support on a topic most people are not that adamant about."

Voters often have short attention spans, while the NRA does not.

While gun control gets a lot of attention whenever there's a major incident, Spitzer said most voters are more concerned with issues like the economy, terrorism and jobs.

"But people who support gun rights are very adamant and they can make life miserable for elective office seekers," he said. "They may not defeat them, but they can make life very difficult -- it's called the 'hassle factor.' And most would rather avoid the hassle."

Consider this statistic: 9 out of 10 Americans support background checks on guns. "If it ever came to a floor vote in the House or Senate they could easily get a majority vote in favor or a national universal background check standard," he said.

So why doesn't it ever get that far? According to Spitzer there is a key right wing, anti-government "Freedom Caucus" faction within Congress that believes it is better if the government does nothing on gun issues (or most issues, for that matter). "They simply oppose everything," he said. "And they feel like they were sent to Washington to do that."

The fact that gun laws do work is treated like a dirty little secret.

In tandem with the mental health argument, another claim that is often brought up when these tragedies occur is that in a country already awash in legally (and illegally purchased) guns, legislation aimed at background checks simply won't do anything to stop mass events such as Thursday's.

Unless they can.

A recent National Review article found that the "states that impose the most restrictions on gun users also have the lowest rates of gun-related deaths, while states with fewer regulations typically have a much higher death rate from guns."

Those laws won't necessarily stop suicides by gun or the actions of aggrieved individuals determined to take the lives of others, but if stricter gun purchasing standards can still make a huge difference. According to a Johns Hopkins University study released in June, for example, a 1995 Connecticut law requiring gun purchasers to apply for a permit in front of the police in person (whether buying privately or from a licensed dealer), raising the minimum handgun buying age from 18 to 21 and requiring mandatory safety training reduced gun homicides by nearly 40% over 10 years.

So how can the tide be turned?

Goddard said one way his organization is fighting back is by using some of the same tactics the NRA does to counter the gun lobby. "Now there are other people holding elected leaders accountable for doing nothing," he said.



"In Virginia, where my family lives and where I went to Virginia Tech -- and where the NRA is headquartered -- the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general all ran on pro-gun safety platforms and they won," he said. "That helps change the narrative and 2016 could be a huge chance to recalibrate the thought process on gun violence. We need more Americans to stand up and do something and no longer accept the status quo."

In addition to Everytown, Spitzer pointed to the organization co-founded by former Congresswoman and gun violence victim Gabby Giffords, "Americans For Responsible Solutions," as an example of groups that have begun to match the NRA's muscle.

"They raised a fair amount of money in 2014 and, for the first time in history gun control groups, have equaled or outspent gun rights groups around the country," he said. "In the long term they do stand to perhaps change the political balance on the scales that in the past have favored the NRA."

Latest News