“Unfortunately, we’ve developed a ritual for these, because it has happened so often,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania. “Campaigns are ceasing their activities. Advertising has been pulled. The candidates have indicated that in many cases it’s not appropriate to engage in some of the more trivial kinds of debates, like those that have characterized the last week.”
So President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney in the coming days will likely stick to sympathetic, prayerful public statements, as they try to keep politics out of a tragic moment while still attempting to project compassion on a national stage.
But when the mourning ends, Obama and Romney and other politicians seem all but certain to move on — without pushing or even proposing any significant changes in policy. For congressional candidates, especially Democrats in tough races, there is little political upside to suggesting any aggressive remedies for preventing another gun massacre because the blowback from the gun lobby would be powerful.
“Leaders have not stepped up in any of these circumstances,” Jamieson said. “If one had to place a bet on what’s most likely, one would say don’t bet on any policy likelihood coming out of this. … I think the chance is negligible.”
Some analysts see a kind of social dysfunction in the avoidance of substantive debate over measures to prevent such tragedies, or even reduce their impact.
“It suggests at least such an acceptance of the kind of current of violence in society as if it cannot be inhibited and changed in any way,” said Dr. Jerrold Post, a professor of political psychology at George Washington University. “There are all sorts of countries that have much stronger rules against assault weapons and the like. … What is it about us as a society that makes this so difficult? … I somewhat despair about this.”