The day after last months’s Red Lake, Mn., school shootings, a group of House Democrats fired off a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., demanding a fresh look at new gun legislation. Yet gun control was not on the agenda when Congress returned last week from spring break, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Top Republicans are loath to do anything that could restrict gun rights, and Democratic leaders — still smarting from recent election reverses — aren’t eager to advertise themselves as the antigun party either. Unlike the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, which prompted many of gun-control proposals, the Red Lake shootings have caused little more than a muted gun debate.
The Red Lake scenario seemed to be beyond the reach of most recent gun-control proposals: child-safety locks, background checks for gun-show sales and a ban on assault weapons. “Everything that kid did that day, practically from the moment he walked out of his bedroom, was a felony,” said Joe Olson, a Hamline University law professor and president of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance. “I don’t think any gun-control laws would have made a difference.” Gun-control advocates argue that next-generation safety locks and futuristic gun technologies that identify users by their hand grip could have made a difference, had the gun industry embraced them. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Mn.) takes partial credit for persuading Democratic Party leaders to back off gun control, an issue he says has cost them dearly in rural districts like his. “They realize that some of what they’ve done over the years has cost them seats,” he said. The party’s new tone on gun control will be influenced by incoming national party chief Howard Dean, who was endorsed by the National Rifle Association when he was governor of Vermont.