By Kelly McParland, with permission of the author

Even as President Barack Obama delivered his address to the American public on Sunday, pleading for even a smidgen of extra control over the sale and use of guns, it was evident he wouldn’t get his wish.

Obama may have realized this. He had a weary air about him during the televised address, as if speaking directly to a brick wall, and not a sympathetic brick wall at that.

After outlining the measures he planned to take to increase the war on ISIL and protect against attacks in the U.S., he proposed:

Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun. What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon?

We also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons like the ones that were used in San Bernardino. I know there are some who reject any gun safety measures. But the fact is that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies — no matter how effective they are — cannot identify every would-be mass shooter, whether that individual is motivated by ISIL or some other hateful ideology. What we can do — and must do — is make it harder for them to kill.

But his expression suggested he knew it wouldn’t happen. Congress, controlled by Republicans, had already ensured that, when it voted Friday to block a measure that would have prevented weapon sales to people on the FBI’s terrorist watchlist. Every Senate Republican but one voted against the measure, which has come up every year since 2007 and been repeatedly rejected. Speaker Paul Ryan in the Republican-controlled House said: “I think it’s very important to remember people have due process rights in this country, and we can’t have some government official just arbitrarily put.

The Republicans are OK with the FBI list, and approve of having a no-fly list, but something about a terrorist gun list offends them. It’s not just Republicans who are the impediment to tougher gun laws, of course: Democrats have had plenty of opportunity over the years, and never made use of them, because Americans of all stripes still think they’re safer with guns than without them.

The New York Times ran a sobering article on Saturday, recording the sense of fear that has come to grip many Americans, who now believe that mass shootings could happen anywhere, any time, and for almost any reason. People in movie theatres worry about the guy who just left for popcorn, parents get a pang of doubt every time they drop off their kid at school, workers worry when a cranky colleague gets the axe, in case he heads straight home for his Glock.

The Times hates guns, and ran a front-page editorial – its first in 95 years – titled End the Gun Epidemic in America. “Politicians abet would-be killers by creating gun markets for them, and voters allow those politicians to keep their jobs,” it noted.

True enough, but in the U.S. today there is a sense that it’s already too late to restrict access to firearms. There are just too many guns in too many hands to make any effective effort to control them. Even if a law was put in place now, those guns would still exist, millions of them, locked away in personal arsenals all over the country.

Trying to round them up would be futile – we’re talking about a country that can’t even agree to block sales to the people already on a list of suspected terrorists. Good luck insisting teachers, pastors, Girl Guide leaders and other upstanding citizens have to hand in their weapons, when they now every religious zealot, conspiracy theorist and free-range crazy in the country will hold onto theirs. Even in Canada the gun registry sparked enough opposition to lead to its demise; in the U.S. the resistance would be many times greater.

This is the logic of people like Donald Trump, and shows how perverse the debate has become.

It seems more likely the country will go in the opposite direction. With each mass shooting the logic of personal weaponry gains credence: if so many dangerous people are armed, why should innocent people go defenceless? They may despise the notion that individuals need a weapon to feel safe in a democratic country – it may offend their vision of what the U.S. is all about – but each time gunshots interrupt a school hallway or a public health facility like the one in San Bernardino, the logic of having a defensive weapon grows. If it happened to you, at least you could do something besides hide.

This is the logic of people like Donald Trump, and the number of Americans who want to be likened to Donald Trump is still pretty low, despite his current standing in political polls. It shows how perverse the debate has become:

The more people hate and fear guns, the more they feel the need to have one.

It’s the ultimate aspiration of the NRA, to turn the entire country into the Wild West. Obama might have realized that as he delivered his plea on Sunday. No wonder he looked weary!


Kelly McParland is editor of, and a frequent blogger, on "Full Comment"  -- the National Post Newspaper online blog site -- and author of "The Lives of Conn Smythe', a biography of the founder and builder of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team

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