After Orlando: Is gun control debate reaching a tipping point?

From the US Senate to the nation's newspapers, the US appears to be inching closer toward a common drive to address the number of mass shootings.

Jim Young/Reuters
A hat is seen at the vigil site for the shooting victims at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday.

Sunday morning’s attacks at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., have prompted many to take a strong position on gun control, saying “enough is enough.”

The past several days have seen calls for the government to tackle both prongs of the issue – terrorism and our nation’s gun laws, which many say enable terrorists.

On Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, where 26 first graders and their teachers were killed in a devastating school shooting in 2012, began a filibuster to force a vote on a proposed “no-fly, no-buy” list that would prevent individuals on the “no fly” list from purchasing weapons.

President Obama, who has long called for stricter gun control, also advocated for the “no fly, no buy” bill on Tuesday, as well as an assault weapon ban.

Even Republican candidate Donald Trump, who has tentatively supported the NRA in the past, announced that he would meet with the group this week about the “no fly, no buy” bill.

Many of the nation's leading newspapers have dedicated extensive space to calls for gun control. On Thursday, The Boston Globe ran a full page ad on the paper's cover featuring a military-style weapon and a plea to "Make it stop" in bold, capital letters.

On Monday, immediately following the shooting, The Washington Post published opined in an editorial that "there is no reason that mass killers can still legally buy their weapon of choice in America" in the United States.

The New York Times took an even stronger stance on Thursday with an editorial condemning the National Rifle Association for enabling terrorists to purchase weapons that allow them to commit mass shootings such as the one that took place this week in Orlando.

Among the American public, it seems that a change of heart about gun control may have taken place in the wake of the Orlando massacre.

A CBS poll conducted after the Sunday attacks found that 57 percent of the country, including 79 percent of Democrats polled and 36 percent of Republicans, believe that gun laws should be stricter than they are today.

Furthermore, after dipping to just 44 percent last, the latest poll revealed that 57 percent of Americans favor an assault weapons ban.

Despite the strong positions taken by several media outlets, critics of tighter gun restrictions maintain that stricter gun control would not stop radicalized terrorists, and that the United States should instead focus on stemming the problem at its roots.

“The states that have the most gun control like California, that already ban assault rifles, that’s where San Bernardino happened and we learn this lesson over and over again," said Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt on a Fox Business Network show. “Law abiding citizens have guns and they’re former military, they’re law enforcement, they are moms, they’re wives.”

Mr. Laxalt argued that stricter gun control measures would divide, rather than unite, the nation at a time when it badly needs unity.

"I just find it appalling that we are focusing on everything but the primary threat, which is radical Islamic terrorism” Laxalt told Fox.

Others say that the Obama administration’s “political correctness” regarding Muslim immigrants to the United States exacerbated a terrorist threat.

CBS polling indicates that 67 percent of Americans believe the Islamic State militant group is a threat to the United States, and that 80 percent of Americans are somewhat to very concerned about a terrorist attack by people already inside the United States.

Opponents of stricter gun control measures say that no matter what measures the government takes, terrorists will find a way. Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, pointed out that last year’s devastating attacks in France occurred in a country with very strict weapons bans, in an op-ed in USA today on Tuesday.  

Instead of truly protecting us, Mr. Cox wrote, assault weapons bans give us only the illusion of protection. Advocating for stricter gun control, Cox says, could actually put us more at risk, because it distracts from the true problem of terrorism.

Those who support assault weapons bans and stricter gun control rebut concerns like those Cox expressed, saying that making it more difficult for terrorists to get their hands on a gun could decrease the risk of terrorist attacks.

In today’s editorial, The New York Times editorial board writes that it is the NRA’s powerful lobby that has prevented these common sense measures from being passed, from restricting magazine capacities to universal background checks.

The New York Times also rejected the NRA’s “absurd fantasy” that armed Americans can help prevent terrorist attacks, saying that the armed security guard at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub was unable to stop the killing.

The battle lines drawn in this particular battle are not unsurprising, especially given the current politically partisan climate. We are far from a consensus on how best to prevent future mass shootings, but the nation appears to be nearing a tipping point where Americans, from lawmakers to journalists, feel that doing something is better than doing nothing.

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