There's something grotesque about American politics when a woman who was shot in the head has to prove she still likes guns anyway in order to comment on them. But so it goes. Yesterday, Gabby Giffords went to the gun range, as she and husband Mark Kelly kick off a national tour once again centered on bolstering a renewed push on federal gun legislation. July and August will be like March and April all over again.
Giffords takes aim down the range, squeezes the trigger. The weapon fires, startling her. She pulls the weapon up, prompting Kelly to step in and take it from her hand. Her left hand, of course — she can't use her right hand because she got shot in the head. There's some small applause. Giffords smiles gamely and waves to the press and observers.
See? She likes guns! So it's OK for her to tour the country asking for reforms to our nation's gun laws that aren't strong enough to have prevented Newtown or her having been shot. The whole thing is like making a person severely injured by a drunk driver extol the virtues of the new 2014 SUVs before she can ask for improved brake systems.
Kelly and Giffords' Rights and Responsibilities Tour is hitting all the same venues you might expect of a mid-level country act: Alaska, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Ohio. You may notice some overlap there with states that are home to moderate Republicans, or Democrats who voted against the background check compromise in April, or are blue states with Republican senators. Presumably whoever drafted the itinerary made a similar observation. (Last month, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's gun reform group Mayors Against Illegal Guns launched its own tour to draw attention to expanded gun measures. It got off to a poor start.)
After the April 17 defeat of that compromise, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada tabled the slate of gun bills that Democrats and the president had been pushing. Ever since, the issue has been drifting in the background, with the vice president and Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia (one of the authors of the compromise) regularly insisting that the debate would return imminently.
Time is not in Manchin's favor, it's worth noting. His home state is among the more conservative on gun issues, though West Virginians broadly support expansions of background checks, Manchin's key issue. Gun proponents are keeping pressure on the senator, however. Last week, as the Charleston Gazette reported, Beretta announced that it would not expand its manufacturing facilities into the state because Manchin's endorsement of checks "makes the state less stable for their business." It's not clear that the company ever intended to open operations in the state. Apparently the company is considering seven unnamed states, but wants, as the Gazette wrote, "to see what kind of offers those states might propose to make a move for Beretta USA more appealing."
Delays won't help other senators either. Much of the energy around gun reforms that existed in April has dissipated; even that energy was greatly diminished from the days after the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Even the outrage that immediately followed the failed vote has almost certainly diminished. Which is why Kelly and Giffords are going on their tour, complete with ads on Politico and hits on ABC News. Or maybe they're just going on the tour so that she can later speak out against tours. That's apparently how politics works.