WASHINGTON - A long time ago, a Republican sage from the upstate village of Alexander, Rep. Barber B. Conable, told me the "genius" of the founders of our republic was to create a government that made it difficult to do anything radical.
Conable was of another day: A Marine veteran of the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, a legal scholar, reformer, who was able to lead bipartisan reforms that preserved the Social Security System for a half century - as a minority GOP member of the House. Later on, he became president of the World Bank. He should have become president of the United States.
Today, the "genius" that Conable referred to has been corrupted so perversely that the recent efforts of hundreds of thousands of young people who demonstrated only last month against gun violence are very likely to be frustrated.
Congress and President Trump are not going to ban this year the sale and distribution of the many varieties of military assault weapons that are flying off the shelves of gun stores. Happily, it is virtually impossible to acquire a new one in New York State.
These are high-velocity weapons one of whose features is ammunition that will tear a man's guts out.
Besides Congress and the National Rifle Association, two outside elements sapped some of the energy out of the kids' campaign. One was a well-intended essay written for The New York Times by retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. Another is the hissy fight that a Fox News commentator dragged gun control organizer, teenager David Hogg, into.
Former Justice Stevens, 97, opined that a result of the kids' extraordinarily successful demonstrations, which reached all the way to Niagara Square, should be a repeal of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Under caselaw, this permits citizens to "keep and bear arms," subject to reasonable regulation by the states and Congress.
Before his retirement in 2010, Stevens was on the losing end of a court ruling that restored the right of citizens to own a pistol or firearm. Stevens called the amendment a "relic of the 18th Century." Stevens' letter aroused the worst in the worst element among gun owners, who said the real purpose of the youngsters' demonstrations was to get the government to seize all privately owned firearms. There are a lot of gun owners, as the 2000 Democratic presidential candidate and gun control maven Al Gore found out.
Repealing the Second Amendment is impossible. It requires passage of two-thirds of the House and Senate, and ratification of three-quarters of the states. This means that the governors, or either house of 13 of the 50 state governments could block repeal. It could be repealed by a federal constitutional convention.
David Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland, Fla., high school massacre last Valentine's Day became a spokesman in the counter-gun demonstrations. Predictably Hogg got slimed by Fox News, hate radio and other surrogates of the NRA. But when he was goaded by Foxling Laura Ingraham for being denied admission to four California universities, the 19-year-old Hogg lost his cool. He called for a boycott of Ingraham's TV show, and advertisers ran from her. This was exhilarating to some anti-gun enthusiasts, but it made Ingraham an object of sympathy. And many on the fence, like me, just do not like advertiser boycotts.
Hogg's call for a boycott was understandable for one of his experience, but it was no more helpful to the cause of reasonable gun control, which must include an assault weapons ban, than was Stevens' essay. Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo is among scores of Democrats who sponsored an assault weapons ban in the wake of the Parkland murders.
Recent surveys show there are as many firearms in circulation as there are people. A 2017 poll by PewSocialTrends.org said 30 percent of Americans own a gun. This column believes that is a wild underestimation. Gun owners by and large won't tell these surveyors anything about their weapons these days.
Congress may tweak the gun purchase registration laws before the mid-terms, but that's all. The NRA and associate organizations spent $11.4 million to elect Trump and $19.8 million to defeat Hillary Clinton.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have zero interest in gun legislation, like Democratic National Chairman Tom Perez, who may preside over a historic wave election without dirtying his fingers on weapons stuff.