— Staunch U.S. gun rights defenders and gun control advocates show few signs of finding common ground on ways to prevent mass shootings following an armed rampage at a Connecticut elementary school that killed 20 small children and several adults.
National tragedies can sometimes force political and ideological opponents to unite for the common good. The United States witnessed such a coming together after the terrorist attacks of 2001. But the mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school seems to have done little to bridge differences between ardent defenders of gun rights and those who want to restrict access to firearms.
“A gun is a tool. The problem is the criminal. Criminals operate outside the [justice] system," he said.
Wayne LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association, America’s biggest gun rights lobbying group, spoke Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press program. Friday, LaPierre made headlines when he advocated posting armed guards at every school across the nation.
On NBC, he pointedly refused to consider any limits on gun ownership, from restricting access to assault weapons to banning high-capacity ammunition clips.
“We do not think it [gun control] works, and we are not going to support it," he said.
Democratic Senator Charles Schumer ridiculed gun rights absolutism. “Trying to prevent shootings in schools without talking about guns is like trying to prevent lung cancer without talking about cigarettes," he said.
Schumer's fellow Democratic Senator Kent Conrad was equally dismissive of LaPierre’s suggesting of arming America’s schools. “It is pretty empty, is it not? That is the only answer? To put more guns in schools?”
Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Conrad said the cost of putting armed guards in each of America’s schools would be prohibitive, and still might not prevent all mass shootings.
Gun rights advocates point to the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which proclaims the right of the people to bear arms. America’s judiciary has long wrestled over the constitutionality of limiting or restricting that right.
Some pro-gun rights legislators have said the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings have caused them to reconsider long-held positions. But Republican Senator John Barrasso says infringing on Second Amendment rights is not the answer.
“We need real solutions to a significant problem in our country, and I am not sure that passing another law in Washington is going to actually find a real solution," he said.
Last week, President Barack Obama said a national dialogue on firearms is long overdue. He appointed Vice President Joe Biden to lead a federal commission on preventing gun violence, but stressed that the American people will have to demand action and remain engaged for change to occur.
There are an estimated 200-to-300 million privately-owned firearms in the United States.