Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Is it still too soon to talk gun control?

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
July 30, 2012 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
Yellow crime scene tape surrounds the apartment building where suspect James Holmes lived.
Yellow crime scene tape surrounds the apartment building where suspect James Holmes lived.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Avlon: The view that it's too soon after Colorado to talk about gun control is wrong
  • He says politicians are making a mistake by ducking action on the issue
  • A new poll of NRA members shows support for reasonable restrictions on guns, he says
  • Avlon: Nearly 10,000 are murdered by gunshots each year; that must be reduced

Editor's note: John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is co-editor of the book "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns." He is a regular contributor to "Erin Burnett OutFront" and is a member of the OutFront Political Strike Team. For more political analysis, tune in to "Erin Burnett OutFront" at 7 ET weeknights.

New York (CNN) -- The bodies of the victims are being buried. The court case will continue, without cameras. The horror in Aurora has faded from the front page in favor of Olympic coverage.

So it is worth asking, 10 days after the largest mass shooting in American history, whether it is still too soon to start a conversation about reasonable gun restrictions. What actions could we take to make such slaughters more difficult to perpetrate?

Because if it is true, as the National Rifle Association says, that "guns don't kill people; people kill people," then it's equally irrefutable that people with guns kill people.

John Avlon
John Avlon

Here is the toll, beyond the 12 dead and 59 wounded in Aurora. More than 180 people killed in mass shootings in the past five years, including the 32 people who died in the April, 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech. And dwarfing that total are the 10,000 Americans murdered by gunshots every year.

Fareed Zakaria: Time to face facts on gun control

No one is suggesting that insane actions such as the Colorado shootings can ever be legislated out of existence. And there is no doubt that the Second Amendment is enshrined in our Constitution. But part of life in a civil society is about having civic conversations about problems -- not aiming for the illusion of perfectibility but for improvement.

Obama speaks out on gun control
The obstacles in legislating gun control
Dissecting the politics of gun violence
Michael Moore speaks out on gun control

Circa 2012, however, it has become politically incorrect to talk about restricting the ability of unstable individuals to get AR-15 rifles, or 6,000 rounds of ammunition. When people say "it's too soon" to talk about the role of guns in mass shootings, what too many of them really mean is that we should never have the conversation.

Gun violence is not inevitable. It does not reflect the human condition.

Navarrette: Guns endanger cops' safety

America leads the world in gun violence by many multiples. It reflects our culture -- and guns are a core part of American culture, for better or worse. It is a fact rooted in the conquest of the West, where guns were used primarily for hunting and self-defense. And Americans' divergent views about guns are reflected in something more fundamental than politics. In a larger sense, America's political divides are not rooted in questions of left versus right as much as urban versus rural.

These basic cultural differences have been the drivers of political debates since Alexander Hamilton squared off against Thomas Jefferson in George Washington's Cabinet. They were reflected in debates over the Civil War and Prohibition and today's red state versus blue state divides. And they underscore the different opinions that exist about guns.

We use guns differently in rural and urban areas of the United States.

And because Democrats need to expand their base beyond urban areas to win statewide or national elections, they have ceded this ground to Republicans. This new status quo is enforced on Capitol Hill by the fact that the NRA outspends anti-gun advocacy groups such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence by a factor of 10-to-1, making it all too easy for members of Congress to calculate that taking on -- or even talking about -- this issue isn't worth the cost.

And it is even more true at the presidential level. President Barack Obama was eloquent and empathetic after meeting with victims and their families, but he backed off making any proposals for new gun control laws.

Mitt Romney also was quick to cite scripture and communicate his sorrow in the hours after the attacks, but he was firm in his insistence that no new guns laws were needed. Gun violence and gun laws seem oddly and unrealistically disconnected when it comes to political discussion.

Frum: Fear drives opposition to gun control

What's particularly hypocritical about these stands is that both men backed assault weapons bans in the past.

As governor of Massachusetts, Romney signed an assault weapons ban into law. As a candidate for president, Obama said he would push for a restoration of the assault weapons ban achieved by President Bill Clinton but which expired in 2004. Now? Crickets.

Presumably, what's changed is not their personal beliefs but the politics. Mitt Romney did a signature flip-flop on this social issue because no Republican believes they can win their party's nomination without full genuflection at the altar of the NRA. Obama's position can also be ascribed to presidential politics -- the Obama campaign can't afford to lose a single persuadable vote in swing states such as Colorado, Nevada and Ohio.

Moreover, Obama's stance on guns is complicated by the typical competition between fear-mongering and facts. Despite the fact that Obama has in some cases loosened gun laws -- such as signing legislation allowing people to carry firearms into national parks -- the far right has been pushing the fright-wing fantasy that he is hell-bent on banning all guns via a U.N. small-arms treaty or some other nefarious plot.

But the conventional wisdom in Washington -- that this is a settled debate -- is a fiction. A new poll by the Republican pollster Frank Luntz for Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that:

-- 74% of NRA members and 87% of non-NRA gun owners support criminal background checks for anyone purchasing a gun.

-- 74% of NRA members think that concealed carry permits should be granted only to applicants who have completed gun safety training and 75% believe that such permits should be granted to people who have not committed violent misdemeanors, including assault.

-- In addition, 71% of NRA members back the idea that people on terror watch lists should be barred from buying guns (duh), and 65% believe that gun owners should be required to alert police in the event of lost and stolen guns.

Opinion: Gun control or carry permits won't stop mass murder

The point is that there is plenty of room for discussion on gun policy post-Aurora and plenty of room for defining the common ground around reasonable restrictions that gun-owners and advocates can agree on. This is not settled policy and not the third-rail politicians pretend it is. That narrative is unrelated to the facts.

There is no reason we can't increase background checks, ban people on a terrorist watch list from buying guns and make it more difficult for people to buy 100-drum magazines that have no function except to kill as many people as possible as fast as possible.

This all falls under common sense and the kind of reasonable restrictions set out by the Supreme Court in their Heller decision. Having this civic conversation is a rational response to a mass killing -- it can be done respectfully and thoughtfully and well within the realm of "reasonable restrictions" that do not impede on the Second Amendment.

All that is required is political courage -- and that can be encouraged by speaking up.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1259 GMT (2059 HKT)
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
September 21, 2014 -- Updated 2132 GMT (0532 HKT)
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1917 GMT (0317 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0017 GMT (0817 HKT)
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT