Oregon college shooting won't likely lead to tighter gun control, experts say

Experts say Thursday's mass shooting at an Oregon college is unlikely to bring about any changes to federal gun laws in the U.S., where attempts failed after the deaths of 20 elementary students in Newtown, Conn.

Political deadlock, strong gun lobby mean 'chances of a breakthrough are not good,' prof says

Obama says gun laws must be changed

7 years ago
Duration 4:03
In emotional statement, U.S president expresses anger over mass school shooting in Oregon

U.S. President Barack Obama looked weary when he responded Thursday to news of yet another mass shooting with the words: "Somehow, this has become routine."

"The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine," the president said after nine people were killed at a community college in Roseburg, Ore. "We've become numb to this."

Stressing that the U.S. is not doing enough to prevent gun violence and mass shootings, his speech echoed ones he made after the Charleston, S.C, church shooting in June, the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting in April 2014, the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in December 2012 and the Aurora, Colo., theatre shooting in July 2012.

Not counting Thursday's tragedy, 293 mass shootings have been reported this year, according to the Mass Shooting Tracker website, a crowd-sourced database kept by anti-gun activists that logs events in which four or more people are shot.

The Oregon shooter had multiple guns, police said, all of them purchased legally.

Still, experts say this latest news is unlikely to bring about any change to federal gun laws in the U.S., where even the deaths of 20 elementary students weren't enough to garner support for tighter gun control.

"In the very short term, the chances of a breakthrough are not good," Gregg Lee Carter, a professor of sociology at Bryant College in Rhode Island and the editor of the book Guns in American Society, said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

Obama's failed attempt 

Obama's attempt at gun control came on the heels of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 children and six adults were killed.

His administration announced its plan on Jan. 16, 2013. It centred on two key elements — mandating background checks on all private firearms sales and banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines like those used in Newtown.

Both measures were criticized by gun-rights organizations, including the National Rifle Association (NRA).

White roses with the faces of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting are attached to a telephone pole near the school on the one-month anniversary of the shooting that left 26 dead in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012. (Jessica Hill/Associated Press)

The Democrats' Senate bill to ban assault weapons was overturned 60-40, with 15 Democrats and every Republican but one voting against it. 

A bipartisan bill to expand background checks for gun-buyers got support from a majority of senators, but fell short of the 60 votes it needed to advance. Forty-one Republicans and five Democrats voted to scuttle the plan.

With little change in Washington's political dynamic, Obama hasn't made a concerted effort to renew the gun control effort since those bills failed.

That's unlikely to change, said Carter,

"The Republicans have significant majorities in both Houses of Congress and the Republican Party platform is clear and strong in defence of gun rights."

Political deadlock and the vocal minority 

Robert Spitzer, a political scientist from the State University of New York at Cortland who has written five books on U.S. gun policy, agrees.

"Under the current political atmosphere, [the Republican Party] is not disposed to look kindly on any proposal from Barack Obama, whether it involves gun control, immigration or any other issues you can think of," Spitzer said. 

What's more, he said, the country's powerful gun lobby is very influential on Capitol Hill. 

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-profit research group that tracks U.S. political donations, the NRA and its affiliates spent $984,152 on political contributions and $3,360,000 on lobbying efforts in 2014 alone.

"The money certainly matters, but it's not the most important factor when it comes to the the NRA," Spitzer said. "It's the money, plus the vocal nature of the people who support the NRA's case."

Gun owners and Second Amendment advocates rallied in state capitals days after U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled a sweeping package of federal gun-control proposals in January 2013. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)

A Pew poll this summer found the majority of Americans support background checks for gun sales, bans on assault-style weapons and the creation of a federal database to track gun sales.

But Spitzer said public outrage over gun violence tends to wane after a particular incident fades from the headlines. The gun-rights lobby, by comparison, is loud and active all year round. 

"It has a strong grassroots component all across the country," he said. "A person who supports the NRA will get up off the couch and turn off the TV and do something."

Slippery slope

Gun rights play an important role in U.S. culture and history, and a 2010 Supreme Court ruling entrenched the Second Amendment right for individuals to bear arms. 

Any attempt at toughening gun laws can be seen by gun advocates as a slippery slope towards confiscation and tyranny, said Spitzer.

Even Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin, the police spokesman briefing the media following Thursday's shooting in Oregon, is a staunch opponent of gun control.

A month after Sandy Hook, Hanlin wrote a letter to Vice-President Joe Biden that read: "Gun control is NOT the answer to preventing heinous crimes like school shootings."

Action at the state level

Some measures to tighten gun control have passed at the state level.

New York was the first state to respond to the Sandy Hook tragedy with legislation, passing measures in January 2013 to expand the definition of banned assault weapons, create a state database for pistol permits, reduce the maximum number of rounds in a magazine and mandate background checks on all gun sales.

Connecticut followed suit in 2013, passing legislation adding 100 firearms to the state's assault weapons and creating a dangerous weapon offender registry.

Last year in Washington state, voters overwhelmingly supported mandatory background checks on private gun sales. Oregon approved similar legislation this year.

A number of states loosened gun laws in the wake of Sandy Hook, including Alabama, Texas and New Jersey, but Spitzer said those legislative changes have mostly been small and symbolic.

Demonstrators raises posters as they march across the Brooklyn Bridge to call for tougher gun control laws on June 14, 2014, in New York. (Associated Press)

With files from The Associated Press


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?