Long term thoughts on the gun issue
My involvement in this area goes way back -- I started writing on it as an undergrad, about 1970, and published my first law review article on it in 1975. I think I see a historical pattern....
1960s-early 1970s. The push was for national legislation, registration, permit systems, that manner of thing. Supporters of it found it hard going. (Original GCA 68 applied only to handguns, as I recall; after the assassination of Martin Luther King it was amended to apply to rifles. So national permit systems were going to be hard sell, but fight over these continued for some years).
Late 1970s: move is to ban Saturday Night Specials, defined as handguns with short barrels and cheap. After prices rose, it was to ban all snub nosed pistols. Notice how much narrower this is than the original objective. We've gone from national registration and permits and maybe handgun bans to trying to ban pistols with barrels under 3". Some bans were passed on imports, but neither ban was enacted.
By 1980, even this is become hard to sell. I think it was 1979 when Handgun Control Inc. went out with press release that Ted kennedy was going to introduce a broad gun bill. Background was that Kennedy, who was looking at a primary run against Carter, had been stalling on any such, and HCI had to use the stories to embarass him into filing the bill.
Early 80s: skirmishing over ATF regulations and ATF abuses. I recall seeing an early Carter Admin memo where writer says someone is going to have to break it to proponents of control that Carter Admin is NOT going to push for much in way of gun laws, and that someone above the writer's rank is going to have to be the one to break it to them. Ends with Firearm Owner's Protection Act in 1986. Other side wins minor victory in ban on civilian sale of full autos made after 1986. If you had told folks in 1970 that fifteen years later gunnies would be able to push through major changes, and their opponents would have to settle for a return this narrow, no one would have believed it.
1990s: If the 60s and 70s were world war II, this is border raiding. Brady Act, requiring "instant" background checks for buys from licensed dealers. Assault Weapon ban, which expires (and whose real world effect was limited to making mfrs delete bayonet lugs and flash suppressors, no major barrier). DV ban. The issue really seems to devolve into finding some very narrow area, where when NRA defends it can be attacked in the press. That is, the entire function is to embarass the opponent rather than to enact anything of significance.
2000s: even that is starting to fade. Minor skirmishing over "gun show loophole." But since Dept of Justice studies show that only about 1-2% of incarcerated offenders who used guns got them at gun shows (and that figure includes those convicted only of firearms violations and first offenders who would have passed a background check anyway), it's hard to argue that this will have any real-world effect. Violence Policy Center with aid of media pushes the .50 caliber rifle issue, but even that gains no traction. Again, since no .50 cal has ever been used in crime, it's hard to see a real-world result.
Thus in 30-40 yrs we go from major battles to border skirmishes. Now, if a person did believe that gun control worked, it would be possible for them in 1970 to think that if the laws being fought over were enacted, some measurably good consequences would follow. I don't think that's the case today. If you could get inside the heads of the folks at Brady or VPC, who I assume are well-informed on the facts, I don't think you would find that they believe the legislation proposed since 2000 would, if enacted, change the crime picture a bit. The basis for pushing it, instead, is hopes that they can embarass the NRA in the media when it opposes. But that's a pretty thin basis for a political movement.
Another way to look at the trend. Brady Campaign started out as National Council to Control Handguns. I have its early pamphlets, in which it argues that registration and permit systems were bad ideas. That's because it wanted a complete handgun ban, testified to that effect, and thought a national permit system would be proposed as a compromise (attesting to the weak condition it thought the gun movement was in). Later, as Handgun Control, Inc., it disavowed handgun bans and advocated permit systems, the very compromise it had earlier feared. As Brady Campaign, I believe it now disavows (or at least plays down, way down) national registration or permit systems, and is content to criticize NRA for the most part, occasionally proposing assault weapon bans, but even that rather quietly.
UPDATE: in response to comments, that's an interesting bit of history. The Brady Campaign was initially named the National Council to Control Handguns (altho in fact it started out trying to ban them). There was also a National Coalition to Ban Handguns (today operating under a different name). NCCH and NCBH decided their names and acronyms were too similar, and (presumably since it had less seniority) NCCH changed its name Handgun Control, Inc.
HCI/Brady was really put on the map by Pete Shields, who had been a top-level exec (I think a VP) with Dupont. He knew organization and fundraising and PR, and took them from two guys in a tiny office into a major organization. I know some folks on the other side of the gun issue who are rather irritated at the present Brady Campaign, for having essentially "forgotten" Shields, and making the group center on the Bradys, when it was Shields who really created everything and, indeed, brought the Bradys on board. I knew Shields a little, debated him a few times, and he was a pretty decent fellow. Having searched the Brady Campaign website for his name, and found a few passing mentions and no pics, I'd tend to join in the irritation. His counterpart on the gun side was Harlon Carter, who took NRA from a few hundred thousand shooter into a 3 million member political movement. NRA named its headquarters after him, memorializes him at every annual meeting, honors his name. I'd suggest that Brady Campaign owes Pete Shields the same respect.