WASHINGTON (AFP) — One year after the deadliest school shooting in US history, guns are as easy to find here as ever and Americans seem to like it that way.
Gun control advocates say the failure of lawmakers to pass tough legislation in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech massacre is a sign of the American gun lobby's power in shaping laws and public opinion.
But gun rights groups say their actions simply mirror public sentiment that tighter gun laws do not prevent mass shootings like last April's, when mentally disturbed student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people at the university before turning his gun on himself.
In fact, a Gallup poll in October 2007 found that 38 percent favor new gun control laws, the lowest level since 2002.
"I think people understand in real life that no matter how many gun control laws you pass, somebody is going to break the new law anyway," said Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens' Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms lobby group.
"There is no such thing as a good gun or a bad gun. There is such a thing as a good person or a bad person who has a gun in hand," said Gottlieb, who is also one of the estimated four million members of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Some states, including Virginia, have tightened background check restrictions to close loopholes such as the one that allowed Cho to purchase firearms even though he been ordered to seek psychiatric treatment.
But others, such as Florida, have gone the opposite way. Lawmakers in the southern state this week passed a "take-your-gun-to-work" measure that would allow employees to stash guns in their cars on company property, except at prisons, schools, and nuclear power plants.
"At the same time that we are trying to move forward, the gun lobby is still very strongly pushing their guns-everywhere-and-anywhere campaign," said Daniel Vice, senior attorney at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
"Guns at school, work and in public -- that easy access threatens to further increase gun crime."
One piece of federal gun legislation was enacted this year, the first nationwide gun control law to pass in 14 years. It united longtime foes the NRA and the Brady Center, who each supported the initiative.
The law aims to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the main way gun purchases are monitored in America, by authorizing federal funding to states so they can improve their databases.
But critics said the attempt to win a political victory ended up falling short of its initial aim because it also included a series of elements aimed at restoring gun-owners' rights.
"The NRA saw it as an opportunity to hijack it and load it with pro-gun provisions and we believe it reached a tipping point where it would do more harm than good," said Kristen Rand, legislative director at the Violence Policy Institute.
The NRA did not respond to several requests by AFP for comment.
"The problem is that there is this tendency after a major shooting to focus on the specifics of that shooting," said Rand. "For the most part the bigger picture gets lost while most people want to try to change a little detail that is never going to reoccur."
Indeed, an MSN-Zogby poll taken days after the Virginia Tech shooting found that 69 percent of respondents viewed the massacre as "the actions of a deranged man determined to inflict mayhem and could not have been prevented."
Fifty-nine percent did not believe stricter guns laws would help prevent future shootings.
"In the vast majority of states, you walk into a gun store, you submit to the background check which takes five minutes -- and there is no background check for the magazines -- and you can buy as many as you want," said Rand.
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