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What the Republican Governor's Gun Veto Says (and Doesn't Say) About Post-Newtown Politics

The bill, which would have eliminated “gun-free zones” statewide, passed through Michigan’s heavily Republican legislature last Thursday, a day before the Sandy Hook horror.

by ALEC LIU
Dec 19 2012, 1:45pm

The entire country is talking guns, and certain parts of it are buying more of them. But Michigan governor Rick Snyder became one of the first politicians to take action yesterday, vetoing a bill that would have allowed license holders to bring concealed weapons onto the state's school grounds, churches, stadiums and hospitals.

The bill, which would have eliminated “gun-free zones” statewide, passed through Michigan’s heavily Republican legislature last Thursday, a day before the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook. Snyder’s press secretary, Sara Wurfel, said that the governor had been reluctant to sign the bill even before the Connecticut incident because it didn't allow those public places to opt out, but that last week’s shooting gave him “extra pause.” From the veto letter Snyder sent to the legislature, courtesy of the Detroit Free Press:

“I believe that it is important that these public institutions have clear legal authority to ban weapons from their premises... Each is entrusted with the care of a vulnerable population and should have the authority to determine whether its mission would be enhanced by the addition of concealed weapons.”

The Detroit News’s Chad Livengood reported that Snyder had been “heavily lobbied by school groups, religious leaders, former police officers and doctors” in recent days to stop the controversial bill ("Churches are meant to be a place of sanctuary for worshippers to gather in peace and free of the threat of gun violence," the Michigan Catholic Conference said in a statement). Gun control advocates could see this as a positive, that a Republican leader would risk the ire of his right-wing pro-gun constituents. That this time, things will be different. 

But it’s too early for such conclusions. The political stakes are clear, now: no official wants to be the first to allow guns in schools days after a massacre like this. Snyder is already one of the most unpopular governors in the country, after signing the state’s right-to-work bill, which sharply limited labor rights and drew tens of thousands of protesters. But there is no sign that his views about guns -- or those of the legislature -- have changed in recent days. The governor's original rationale for blocking the bill were jurisdictional, related to the fear, the Free Press wrote, "that it could be used to overturn the state's firearms preemption law that prohibits local firearms laws from trumping state laws and regulations."

In fact historically, mass shootings like the one in Sandy Hook have had little impact on American views over gun control. Which has been the general pattern: we rage for a few weeks, months even, and then we forget.

Some, however, believe Sandy Hook could be a seminal moment in the nation’s history, that hopefully, we’ve reached a tipping point in public opinion, something along the lines of the national reckoning Australia went through in the 1980s after a brutal gun massacre; there hasn't been a mass shooting since. Like Rep. Carolyn McCarthy who lobbied to pass the original assault weapons ban in 1994. "I think we have a better chance than ever, I truly do. I feel it in my bones," McCarthy told the Atlantic. "I'm not someone who's extremely optimistic about these kinds of things, but there is a difference this time around. I see a lot more anger.”

McCarthy's assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, could now find new life through Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who says she will introduce legistlation that would restore the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, a move that Obama pledged to support Tuesday. There is also widespread public support for closing the "gun show loophole," which allows anyone to buy a gun at a trade show without a background check.

The typically influential NRA is also having a rough year. Among all independent-expenditure groups involved in the 2012 election, they had the lowest return-on-investment. Less than 1 percent of $24 million spent since 2011 produced desired results. And this time around, even ardent right wing pundits are reconsidering their stance, guys like Sean Hannity and Joe Scarborough. Passing anything to law, however, will still require significant Republican support. For now, most of that part of the Senate is staying mum. When Meet the Press reached out to all 31 pro-gun Senators to share their views last weekend, none accepted the offer. Mayor Michael Bloomberg did. "We gotta stop this," he said, before laying into the politicians, including Obama, who are already late to act.

And much like the Mayor's uphill battle against climate change, the fight seems to get harder every day. With enough guns in circulation for every citizen of the country -- with a fresh 4 million added each year -- even the most stringent legislation would only make it marginally more difficult for wannabe murderers to acquire the necessary firepower. Most mass shooters acquire their guns legally, anyway.

As Motherboard's Brian Merchant writes, things may only get worse, compounded by the rise of 3D printers and homemade killing machines. So even if guns are the obvious starting point, gun control is hardly a panacea for what is fast becoming a national pandemic: five of the 11 most deadly shootings in the U.S. happened in the last five years--not including Sandy Hook. Whatever it signifies, this veto certainly isn't the final answer.

@sfnuop