By Ria Novosti
Despite a recent stroke, Bill Badger was determined to show up in court this month to see with his own eyes the man who shot him in the head in a mass shooting 19 months ago at a supermarket in Arizona, one in a series of murderous armed rampages in the United States in recent years.
“It’s changed my life,” Badger, a retired U.S. Army colonel, a hunter and lifelong supporter of the pro-gun National Rifle Association (NRA) lobby, said. “I’ve made up my mind that I want to do something to help prevent this kind of thing from happening again and again in this country.”
The Arizona shooting, which left six people dead and 13 injured including Gabriel Giffords, then a member of the U.S. Congress, shattered Badger’s peaceful retirement years and propelled him into the national spotlight of an emotional and peculiarly American debate on how to control citizens’ possession of guns.
And with a U.S. presidential election looming, that debate has acquired a fresh urgency as supporters and opponents of tighter restrictions on guns take their cases to the court of public opinion, even as the two main candidates, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, seem eager to stay on the sidelines.
Badger’s determination to take action against gun violence was sealed last month, when another mass shooting claimed the lives of 12 people and injured 58 others inside a movie theater in the city of Aurora, Colorado.
“I was just devastated,” Badger said in a telephone interview, referring to the Colorado shooting. “It was just like it was January 8th, 2011 all over again, because I know exactly what those people are going through.”
In the days before attending the court appearance of Jared Lee Loughner, the 23-year-old college drop-out diagnosed with schizophrenia who has pleaded guilty to the Arizona shooting, Badger joined two other survivors in a national ad campaign called “Demand A Plan,” sponsored by Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
The campaign calls on both President Obama, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger, Romney, to spell out their positions on gun control in unambiguous terms – an effort to bring the policy choices on gun control into sharp focus and to encourage concrete steps to curtail gun violence in the United States.
“We demand a plan,” the ad states, “because 48,000 Americans will be murdered with guns during the next president’s term. That’s three Aurora shootings every day.”
Badger and his “Demand a Plan” partners are not alone in insisting that U.S. political leaders turn their attention to the gun issue in the wake of all the recent deadly mass shootings.
“The Tucson survivors have waited nearly 600 days for Washington to take action to end gun violence,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, co-chair of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said in a statement recently. “The people who want to run this country need to tell us their plans to stop the bloodshed.”
Less than an hour after the “Demand a Plan” campaign released its ad to the media, a gunman opened fire at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, killing six worshippers and critically injuring three others. And earlier this week, a gunmen opened fire near a university in Texas, killing two people and wounding another two.
But despite the string of mass shootings and the renewed debate in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election in November, experts say Badger and other gun control advocates have a slim shot at limiting either the types of weapons on the streets of America or the people who have access to them.
“Gun control is a radioactive political issue in this country and not one that either party is going to have either the courage or the conviction to address,” said Kristin Goss, associate professor of public policy and political science at Duke University, and the author of “Disarmed: The Missing Movement for Gun Control in America.”
Tom Mauser, whose 15-year-old son Daniel was killed in the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, voiced similar skepticism that Obama, Romney and other U.S. political leaders would attempt to change the status-quo.
“We just go from one mass shooting to the next to the next,” said Mauser. “Our leaders are just frozen in place. I hope someday they are more nervous about upsetting me than they are about upsetting the gun lobby. But we’re not there yet.”
After the Sikh temple shooting, Obama called for “soul-searching” on gun control and Romney lamented the “tragedy.” Neither however even hinted at the more specific action gun control advocates want.
Despite the pleas from relatives of victims in the recent Colorado shooting for tougher gun laws, gun sales and classes in that state are booming and supporters of gun ownership say gun control has failed.
The two most recent mass shootings occurred in “gun free zones” like schools, businesses and places of worship. Those restrictions, gun supporters argue, only kept victims from being armed and able to protect themselves.
“Gun ownership probably is more American than apple pie,” said Erich Pratt, Communications Director for Gun Owners of America.
“This truly was a cherished liberty, the right to bear arms. The founding fathers truly felt it was a right from God, and certainly they used their guns to throw off the tyranny of King George, so we really distinguished ourselves in our ability to defend ourselves.”
The notion however that Americans have a basic right to possess almost any type of gun and to carry it in any manner they choose is being called into question even in some unlikely quarters.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, an influential conservative, said recently that the U.S. “Founding Fathers” intended limitations on this right.
“They had some limitation on the nature of arms that could be borne,” Scalia said on the Fox News channel last month. “So we’ll see what those limitations are as applied to modern weapons.”