Michael Barone
Only a few lonely media outlets responded to the Aurora Mall murders by calling for stricter gun control measures. President Barack Obama and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper made eloquent statements, as did Mitt Romney, but neither the two Democrats nor the Republican called for changes in gun laws.

Many conservatives and gun rights advocates took satisfaction from this, with some cause. Congressional Democrats have mostly given up the fight for gun control after observing the defeats of many colleagues in 1994 and of Al Gore in 2000.

A large majority of states have passed laws allowing qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons, and no such law has been repealed. And the Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment does recognize a personal right to keep and bear arms.

But it is not only liberals who have changed their stance on an issue related to violence and crime. Conservatives in increasing numbers are moving away from their decades-long support for long prison terms for criminals.

Last year, Newt Gingrich, William Bennett and Reagan Attorney General Edwin Meese endorsed a "right on crime" initiative, calling for rehabilitation measures rather than prison sentences for nonviolent offenders.

They joined liberals who have been dismayed that America has just about the highest rate of incarceration of any nation in history.

There's little question that the vast increase in prison populations from the lows of the 1960s to the highs of recent decades have resulted in reduced crime. Violent offenders who are locked up can't attack people outside.

But it's also true that crime rates stayed high for a couple of decades after prison populations started their vast increases. Better police tactics, pioneered by Rudolph Giuliani and William Bratton in New York City and adapted by many others, played a major role.

Meanwhile, laws requiring mandatory minimum sentences have resulted in lengthy terms for many who are likely to be no threat to society. This has led conservatives like anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist to endorse the Families Against Mandatory Minimums organization.

It seems particularly unfair to many conservatives as well as to liberals that judges must sentence people possessing small amounts of marijuana to five-year terms when states with medical marijuana dispensaries have de facto legalized the substance.


Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM