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Capitol Journal: Pit a youth movement for firearms regulation against an aging gun lobby —  the kids will ultimately win

Students lead a chant against gun violence as thousands of protesters march in the streets during the March for Our Lives on March 24 in Los Angeles.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Those young people who marched for gun control all over the country showed this: The unyielding firearms lobby is in deep trouble with the next generation.

No one can be sure how many marched Saturday — hundreds of thousands, millions? There were more than 800 rallies.

“It was an amazing day,” longtime gun control advocate Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told reporters. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

It seems inevitable: Pit a growing youth movement for sensible national firearms regulation against an aging gun lobby with hardened arteries and the kids ultimately win.

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That is, if the National Rifle Assn. continues to be hard-line and refuses to compromise on such basic things as banning assault weapons, an increasingly popular idea among Americans. Congress, intimidated by the NRA, can’t even bring itself to impose nationwide background checks for all gun purchases, which practically every citizen supports.

Creatures that refuse to adapt ultimately perish.

I wrote this 25 years ago: “A gun lobby paranoid about losing the right to bear arms … ultimately could [lose the right] in the next century … unless it becomes more compromising and realistic about societal needs in an increasingly violent urban America.”

We’re now in that next century. No group is advocating the seizure of all guns in America, despite the NRA’s disingenuous claims designed to fatten its membership and shill for the firearms industry. Get ’em now while you still can.

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But there’s initial talk in important places about repealing the 2nd Amendment. John Paul Stevens, retired U.S Supreme Court associate justice, wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times on Wednesday advocating repeal.

“Rarely in my lifetime have I seen the type of civic engagement school children and their supporters demonstrated in Washington and other major cities throughout the country this past Saturday,” he wrote. “They reveal the broad public support for legislation to minimize the risk of mass killings of school children and others in our society.”

Stevens said it was a “clear sign to lawmakers” they should ban civilian ownership of semiautomatic weapons, increase the legal gun-buying age to 21 and impose comprehensive background checks.

More from George Skelton »

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“But the demonstrators should seek more effective and more lasting reform,” he continued. “They should demand a repeal of the 2nd Amendment.”

Doing that, Stevens concluded, “would be simple and would do more to weaken the NRA’s ability to stymie legislative debate and block constructive gun control legislation than any other available option.”

Simple? Hardly. Not procedurally or politically. And repealing the 2nd Amendment right now is definitely not an “available option.”

Here’s why: Amending the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of each congressional house and ratification by three-fourths of the state legislatures. Right now you couldn’t get close to a majority for either. Or a constitutional convention could be called, which is even less practical.

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But in another generation or two, after many more mass shootings of children, anything’s possible.

We don’t need to repeal the 2nd Amendment anyway. There’s plenty of flexibility within its awkwardly punctuated single sentence — although gun addicts stubbornly deny it — to ban certain types of firearms and control use. But that would require realism and compromise.

Coverage of California politics »

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Emerging generations probably will force it. New generations tend to be game-changers.

Not many years ago, most of us would not have envisioned gay marriage, legal marijuana, public smoking bans or — two or three generations back — racial desegregation across America. When enough voters demand change in a democracy, they get it.

Mark Baldassare, president and pollster of the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, calls the teen marches “a new and defining moment.”

“I see it as having a lot of political potential,” he says. “They’re voices that haven’t been heard before in this debate. They’re not just going to be dismissed. They represent the victims.”

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The institute released a poll last week showing that 70% of this state’s likely voters believe gun laws should be stricter. And that’s in California, which already has the strictest gun laws in America.

Baldassare says the figure was up 13 percentage points since last May and is the highest it has been since he began asking the question. Even a plurality of Republicans, 48%, think gun control should be stricter.

Nationally, a recent Quinnipiac University poll found 97% of Americans — including 97% of gun owners — favor universal background checks for all firearms purchases. Two-thirds support banning the sale of assault weapons.

California has outlawed assault weapons and ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds. The state began seriously controlling guns 28 years ago and it has paid off. The firearms death rate here has declined significantly and is substantially lower than the national average.

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Amanda Wilcox, a longtime advocate for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, whose daughter was shot to death by a mentally ill man, says, “These students are saying things like, ‘You’re supposed to be keeping us safe. You’re not doing your job.’ It is marginalizing the hard-liners, the extremists. Young people drive culture changes. And many of them will be voting by next fall.”

Democratic pollster Ben Tulchin says, “These teenagers are amazing. They don’t say, ‘Nothing we can do about it.’ They say, ‘We’re going to change it.’”

He adds, “I think they’ll help Democrats take back the [U.S.] House.”

Maybe. I am sure about this: Unless the gun lobby gets off its high horse, a future generation will shoot it down.

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george.skelton@latimes.com

Follow @LATimesSkelton on Twitter


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