The politics of gun laws

In the wake of the Las Vegas attack -- cries for stricter gun control are growing louder.

AUSTIN - As details emerge about the weapons used to carry out the Las Vegas shooting attack that left 59 people dead,  politicians, the public and even celebrities are calling on lawmakers to address gun control.

"When someone with a beard attacks us we tap phones, we invoke travel bans, we build walls. We take every possible precaution to make sure it doesn't happen again. But when an American buys a gun and kills other Americans then there's nothing we can do about that," said comedian Jimmy Kimmel in a passionate monologue the day after the shooting. 

This is a reaction we've seen play out before. It happened after the Pulse Nightclub shooting, after the Virginia Tech attack and after Sandy Hook Elementary. 

After the attack that left 20 children and six adults dead, it was former President Barack Obama who called for change. 

"As a country, we have been through this too many times. We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics," he said. 

In the recent cases, lawmakers opted to take to Twitter and release statements offering thoughts and prayers.

"The responses have become very predictable," said Jim Hensen, Ph.D., Director of the Texas Politics Project.

Hensen believes gun control has become polarized by politics, pitting Democrat against Republican. He said the biggest political drivers are gun law opponents,  their interpretation of the 2nd amendment and their power over Republican primaries.

"They want to treat the second amendment in much the way that we treat the first amendment. Which is to say that we don't restrict speech unless it's absolutely necessary," Hensen said.

"Restrictions even on accessories to guns let alone certain types of guns themselves are presented as a violation of fundamental rights," he added.

Another factor is the public opinion that guns, both legal and illegal, are already out there and aren't going anywhere. 

"This has now become such an established phenomenon and there's such a pattern of mass shootings in the United States that people are viewing it as one of those things that are kind of a fact of life," said Hensen. 

A 2015 poll by the Texas Politics Project found the public opinion is laws aren't the problem.

"Only two percent of Republicans in the state said that gun laws were to blame as compared to 28 percent of democrats. So there's just not a consensus in the state that gun laws are the issue here. People are more likely overall to say it's mental health problems."

Hensen believes it would take a major political shift to reset the conversation and many question if the political will exists to force such a shift. 

It is worth noting, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced a bill Wednesday to prohibit the sale or possession of bump stops and other equipment that turn a semi-automatic gun into an automatic weapon. The ATF told reporters the Las Vegas shooter had several of the devices in his room.

© 2017 KVUE-TV


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