Gun control or "hopes and prayers"?

Bush heads for Virginia Tech; McCain says we "have to keep guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens."

Published April 17, 2007 1:55PM (EDT)

The Los Angeles Times reports this morning that the shootings at Virgina Tech have "sparked a largely one-sided response in the long-running debate over guns" in which gun control advocates renewed their call for tougher laws while "supporters of gun rights generally kept their heads down."


In a story in the Hill today, Gun Owners of America spokesman Erich Pratt complains that it's hard for guys like him to find a presidential candidate who's sufficiently pro-gun. "I think there's a lot of disappointment out there," Pratt says. "There's a lot of angst."

The problem, as the Hill explains it, is that "first tier" GOP candidates Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain have all been "inconsistent" on the issue of gun rights. Although Giuliani has said that what works for New York might not work for other parts of the country, gun-rights supporters are wary of him because he did back some gun-control measures during his term as New York's mayor. Romney has been a rather complete embarrassment as he's tried to prove his ballistic bona fides; his campaign has had to back away from his claims of being a lifelong National Rifle Association member and a lifelong hunter when neither turned out to be true.

McCain infuriated the NRA with his support of the McCain-Feingold Finance Reform Act, but he's actually been pretty solid on gun rights -- a point he rushed to make Monday even as families were learning that their loved ones had been shot to death. "We have to look at what happened here, but it doesn't change my views on the Second Amendment, except to make sure that these kinds of weapons don't fall into the hands of bad people," McCain said during a campaign stop in Texas Monday. "I do believe in the constitutional right that everyone has, in the Second Amendment to the Constitution, to carry a weapon. Obviously we have to keep guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens."

As we've reported, Dana Perino waded right into the gun-control debate at the White House Monday, but even she didn't go so far as declaring that we "have to keep guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens." Perino merely reaffirmed George W. Bush's support for gun owners' rights to bear arms. We suspect that Bush himself will have the good sense to steer clear of the issue -- or any questions about it -- when he heads to Blacksburg for a convocation at Virginia Tech today. But the Politico's Roger Simon remembers what candidate Bush said when asked about gun control in the wake of a 1999 shooting at the Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas: "I don't know of a law -- a governmental law -- that will put love in people's hearts. There seems to be a wave of evil passing through America now ... but our hopes and our prayers have got to be that there is a more love in society."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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