WASHINGTON — Why is it so hard for even the most modest gun-control effort to succeed?
The easy answer is the power of the gun lobby, but the obstacles are far more complex. Growing numbers of people distrust Washington. A deeply rooted gun culture sees big government as a threat to its security, not to mention its constitutional rights. Members of Congress from conservative areas are well aware that votes on gun control are politically perilous.
Gun control advocates thought their task would be so different this week. President Barack Obama was making a passionate, heartfelt pitch unlike almost any he’d made before during his presidency. A congressional colleague, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was severely wounded during the Tucson shootings two years ago, visited the Capitol to make her plea. Families of recent shooting victims visited senators and watched them vote.
But what began as an energetic effort to finally get something new on the books wound up in defeat after defeat, and on Thursday the bill was pulled.
The biggest hurdle is overcoming the long-simmering, ever-growing public fear that government is too intrusive and incompetent. That attitude almost scuttled the 2010 health care law, as people resented government forcing them to buy coverage. The resistance to more gun control follows a similar pattern.
“There certainly is an erosion of trust and confidence in the competence of government,” said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of four Republicans who voted to toughen background checks. “People often don’t trust government to protect them, and there’s a very distressing lack of any confidence government will keep its word.”