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Posted on Aug 4, 2012
shawncampbell (CC-BY)

By Mark Heisler and Mike Littwin

If social networks helped mobilize Egyptians to confront Hosni Mubarak’s tanks and men, shouldn’t they also be able to take on a PAC, even one as powerful as that belonging to the National Rifle Association?

Armed to the teeth as NRA members may be, they don’t have tanks, although it may be only a matter of time before the constitutional protection to bear assault rifles is expanded to armored vehicles.

In an age in which highway construction is problematic, the political process can’t deal with the issue. The media mentions it only when it’s obligatory—after massacres.

If this is really a new day—and about now, we could use one—what’s to stop the world’s most socially networked nation from adapting the Arab Spring to our own Aurora Summer?

To this point, all we’ve had is the usual ritual exercise with everyone in their accustomed roles. On ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” George Will resisted the notion of legislation and social science attempts to understand James Holmes. Two of the usual suspects, Ed Rendell and Joe Klein, endorsed assault weapons bans—an argument pointedly ducked by the mainstream, as represented by both presidential candidates.


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In Aurora to provide consolation, if not solutions, President Obama didn’t touch the issue. Mitt Romney said the answer was showing “our fellow citizens the good heart of the America we know and love,” signing off with “God bless you for being here and God bless the United States of America.”

Stephanopoulos, as moderator, raised the issue in a world-weary preface, noting the “all-too-familiar ritual of mourning and remembrance ... [with] the policy debates about guns and violence that inevitably follow a rampage like this.”

Americans are so resigned, polls show support for gun control, which rose to 65 percent of Americans in favor after Columbine in 1999, dropping to or below 50 percent in recent years.

Shootings now must claim multiple victims to be national news. Counting incidents in which people are only wounded—like the 17 in a Tuscaloosa, Ala., bar last month—the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence listed 21 this year (before Aurora), almost one a week.

Horrific as this trend is, there’s rare unanimity on the wisdom of doing nothing in the three branches of the federal government.

When cities sought to limit the kinds of guns mowing down children in drive-by incidents, the Supreme Court ruled that the right our Founding Fathers granted to keep one’s musket by the cabin door extended to assault rifles and large-magazine Glock pistols.

Neither party is engaged. The Democrats dropped all interest after Al Gore’s loss to George W. Bush in 2000, which conventional wisdom attributed in large part to endorsing gun control.

Today’s electoral map focuses like a laser on eight to 10 swing states, standing in for the rest of the nation. As narrowcast as this race is, it’s decided by a few swing voters within these states—making it essential not to offend the tiny sliver of the electorate composed of hunters in Western Pennsylvania or Upper Michigan.

If gun control fervor spiked again after Aurora (ho hum), Obama and Romney are in a tight race, and the 112th Congress, in its death throes with 12 percent favorability, has another of those pesky budgets to pass, or not pass.

Voiceless as they may be, leaderless as they may have been left, there are people who can actually do something about it.


Of course we’d have done something long ago if we had been as organized as the NRA, which continues to cow the political process, outmanning, outgunning and outmaneuvering its opponents, police chiefs and all.

If it seemed there was no prospect of ever corralling the rolling ball bearings of the gun control constituency, no one dreamed of an Arab Spring before the yearning so many felt coalesced online into a real-world movement.

As in the Middle East, this is a job for the social networks, with their young, computer-savvy demographic whose fascination with guns stops largely (with prominent, recent exceptions) at the level of video games.

On the ground in Colorado, the 13 years between the bookend tragedies of Columbine and Aurora stand only to mark the futility of our response to the challenge. With a Las Vegas gun show now plastering ads on buses and billboards all over town showing a hottie bearing an assault rifle and the pitch “shoot a real machine gun!” Americans don’t seem eaten up with angst.

We don’t know what a social network-led uprising can do, but it would mean more than using victims’ names with a hashtag so they, not Holmes, trend on Twitter.

Life went back to normal. Horrific as it was, Aurora was soon pushed off the front pages when Romney questioned London’s preparations for the Olympics. Another mass shooting—five wounded when a pistol-wielding spectator opened up after a basketball game at New York City’s Rucker Park—barely fazed the national consciousness.

The Internet’s only contribution to a solution was a symbolic one, aimed at obscuring Holmes’ name. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper—another Democrat ducking the issue of gun control—joined in, noting in his household that the alleged shooter is referred to only as “Suspect A.”

If it shows what’s possible, it’s not the popular uprising we have in mind.

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