The Gun Debate, Again

This afternoon's shootings at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum are so awful as to defy credulity. A deranged white supremacist, it seems, started firing at the museum's entrance. When I came to the Atlantic's offices this afternoon, TV crews and a crowd stood outside of George Washington University Medical Center where one of the guards who stopped the gunman is being treated. Helicopters are circling the city. The overlapping police authorities are on display with law enforcement officials from the Park Police, FBI, District of Columbia and elsewhere. It's an insane moment and yet, I assume, we're just a few hours away from a very predictable debate over gun control.

Yesterday's gubernatorial primary in Virginia, where State Senator Creigh Deeds won, would seem to add more proof to the idea that Democrats are done with gun control. Deeds had voted to allow concealed weapons in nightclubs and bars, among other things because, hey, you always want extra weapons near the liquor. Barack Obama made no big deal of gun control in his race. Back in 2000, Bill Bradley had proposed the licensing of all handguns in the U.S. Of course, each time there's a high-profile shooting like the Virginia Tech massacre there are renewed calls for gun control or at least more modest measures to ensure that the mentally ill and criminals don't have easy access to guns.

That today's shooting took place on what's considered almost sacred ground means that the discussion on cable and in the press will center more on anti-semitism, white supremicist nutjobs and the sheer humanity of the moment, but at some point we'll be back to gun control again. So far, though, all of the momentum is with gun control opponents. In New York for instance, Kirsten Gillibrand, the appointed U.S. Senator who is seeking election next year, is almost certain to win her primary even though she's a favorite of Second Amendment hyperbolists. Last year, of course, the Supreme Court struck down the District of Columbia's ban on handguns. I thought the ban was wrong but that D.C. had a right to it. Antonin Scalia, whose obvious glee was apparent in every paragraph of the Court's opinion, not only struck down the ban but also its demand for mandatory trigger locks. You not only had a right to a handgun but a right to a loaded one on your nightstand.

I've covered a lot of high-profile shootings over the years. I stood on the Capitol grounds a decade ago when a mentally ill gunman shot Capitol Police officers guarding the office of Tom DeLay. I don't think I've ever seen gun control forces in such a weak position, despite the White House and the Congress being under Democratic control.

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Matthew Cooper is a managing editor (White House) for National Journal.

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