The death and injury of 70 coal miners could be expected to generate legislative and regulatory action to strengthen mine safety. The death and injury of 70 people resulting from salmonella poisoning at a restaurant would prompt swift action to require stricter food security measures.
However, the death and injury of 70 people in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater is unlikely to jar federal or state officials into tightening gun control laws.
The National Rifle Association is typically cited as a powerful lobby that has its thumb on Congress and state legislatures when it comes to gun control measures. However, the more telling data is Gallup polling that shows American attitudes in favor of stricter gun laws have dropped from around 80 percent in 1990 to 44 percent today. In the same time period, Gallup reports the number of Americans who favor the same or more lenient gun laws has increased from just 10 percent to 55 percent.
This stark change of view for the American electorate has occurred despite several high-profile mass shootings, including the one at Columbine High School, in another Colorado suburb. It also has occurred while the percentage of Americans who admit to owning guns has shrunk.
It seems a majority of Americans has concluded that disturbed people will find the means to murder and injure other people, regardless of what laws are in place.
That helps explain why a hotly debated 10-year ban on assault rifles approved by Congress in 1994 died with nary a whimper in 2004.
Gun control remains an emotional issue in many places around the nation. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg used the Colorado shooting incident as a launch pad for a call to reinstate gun controls. But in more rural precincts, people such as Congressman Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon, side with the NRA on gun control issues or risk defeat at the ballot box.
While a state lawmaker and U.S. senator from Illinois, Barack Obama supported gun control. Just hours after Colorado theater shooting, however, aides to Obama signaled that new gun control legislation isn't likely — even though the alleged shooter apparently bought weapons, ammunition and battle gear from an online vendor, something not even imagined when the 1994 assault rifle ban was imposed.
There may be a strong cry for action from gun-control advocates, but it will be seed landing on infertile political ground.
As a Washington Post reporter put it, "When voters are asked about their top concerns, they mention jobs, the deficit and sometimes health care. Gun control rarely is mentioned."
The unsettling details that led to the mass shooting at Theater 9 — like similar gruesome scenes of violence in virtually all parts of the country, including an assassination attempt on a Member of Congress — probably won't change that.