There are more guns in the United States than in any other country in the world. Add that to the fact that Americans also have the highest gun ownership per capita rate – around 90 guns for every 100 Americans – and it makes sense why most Americans, constituents and politicians alike, assume that the National Rifle Association is powerful beyond control.
According to Paul Waldman, contributing editor at the American Prospect, the money and influence of the NRA is largely exaggerated in American politics.
That perceived influence bolsters a fear that any attempts to change gun laws will only result in detrimental NRA push-back.
The debate over gun control has a long and tenuous history in our country. Gun control legislation gained traction in the early '90s under President Clinton, with the passage of the Brady Law in '93 and the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in '94, which was part of the larger Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.
Since that time any major new gun restrictions have been blocked, and the Assault Weapons Ban was allowed to expire in 2004, despite heated protest from gun control activists.
But the argument over powerful, military-grade weapons is on the table again. To carry out Friday's horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the shooter used a Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle and carried large capacity clips to claim the lives of 26 people.
Now legislators on both sides of the aisle are voicing concern over the ease with which these military-style weapons can be accessed.
Steven Smith is a professor of political sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.