Mostly my thoughts on the issue, far better said.
Gun Reform for a Generation
Published: January 16, 2013
We usually cringe when politicians drag ordinary people onstage for their events. But the four children who appeared with their parents and President Obama in the White House on Wednesday at his announcement
on gun control proposals drove home the nature of the crisis facing the country. While guns and gun control have been a subject of debate among politicians and lawyers and lobbyists and pollsters and political groups in the center and on the fringes, our children have been living in a free-fire zone for sociopaths with virtually unfettered access to instruments of mass murder.
It is past time that elected leaders did something about it without worrying, as Mr. Obama said
on Wednesday, about getting “an A grade from the gun lobby.” It has been a bipartisan betrayal of the public’s safety, the fault of Democrats and Republicans, and of a string of presidents who have said mournful things after the mass murders at Columbine and Virginia Tech and Aurora and Newtown but did not act.
Wednesday was the exception. One month after the Newtown, Conn., murders, Mr. Obama presented a comprehensive set of initiatives
that was, for a change, structured around what needs to be done and not what political tacticians think the president could get a dysfunctional Congress to pass. Mr. Obama can be frustrating at moments like this, and his delivery today was as professorial as ever. But he stepped up to the broader issue before the nation in remembering the tragedy at Newtown.
“While there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil,” he said, “if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try.”
Mr. Obama said he believes the Second Amendment bestows an individual right to own guns. We have disagreed with that position, but it is now the law as judged by the Supreme Court, and as Mr. Obama said so passionately, it should be no impediment to gun regulation.
“Along with our freedom to live our lives as we will comes an obligation to allow others to do the same,” Mr. Obama said, noting that 900 people have died in gun violence since Newtown, a vast majority of them on the streets of “big cities and small towns.”
We have “the right to worship freely and safely; that right was denied to Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wis.,” Mr. Obama said. “The right to assemble peaceably; that right was denied shoppers in Clackamas, Ore., and moviegoers in Aurora, Colo. That most fundamental set of rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, fundamental rights that were denied to college students at Virginia Tech and high school students at Columbine and elementary school students in Newtown; and kids on street corners in Chicago on too frequent a basis to tolerate.”
Mr. Obama’s announcement was preceded by a blast of propaganda from the far right that his proposals would be confiscatory and tyrannical. Anyone who was paying attention to the news in the last couple of weeks knew that this was nonsense, and the proposals announced on Wednesday were not remotely similar to what the gun lobby wanted Americans to believe they would be. They will not limit any law-abiding American’s right to own guns for hunting, or sport, or collection, or self-protection.
The package is a mix of executive orders intended to tighten and heighten enforcement of existing gun laws and sweep away ideologically motivated restrictions on government action against gun violence, and new laws that will have to be passed by Congress.
Mr. Obama’s bills would require universal criminal background checks for all gun sales, doing away with the loopholes for gun shows, private sales and Internet sales that have exempted 40 percent of all gun sales from those checks. He called on Congress to reinstate and toughen the ban on assault weapons that was allowed to expire in 2004. He wants to restore a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines and to ban armor-piercing bullets that are used by criminals to kill police officers. The president asked Congress to pass a $4 billion measure intended to retain 15,000 police officers who are being laid off as states and localities react to the recent recession and to budget cuts from Washington.
Mr. Obama also issued executive orders to make the background checks system more comprehensive and strengthen enforcement of existing gun laws. He is ending a freeze on research into gun violence at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was imposed by lawmakers at the behest of a gun lobby that is terrified by the prospect that gun violence could be viewed, as it should be, as a public health issue. He also signed an order making it clear that doctors and other health care providers are not prohibited by any federal law from reporting their patients’ threats of violence and that the health care reform law “does not prevent doctors from talking to patients about gun safety.”
Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. acknowledged that getting any of the president’s proposals through Congress was going to be a herculean task. Mr. Biden said, “I also have never seen the nation’s conscience so shaken by what happened” in Newtown. We have hoped, too, that the murders last month would finally inspire action, especially if Americans pressured their representatives in Congress to do something about this crisis.
Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden will have to make good on Mr. Obama’s promise to do everything they can to fight for these proposals in Congress — and that will mean twisting arms and making threats to members of his own party as well as to Republicans.
The gun lobby is focused within the Republican Party, but Democratic lawmakers have also been to blame for failing to pass meaningful gun regulations. Already, some Democrats who should be strongest on gun controls are showing familiar signs of weakness.
Senator Pat Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, will be needed as a leader in this effort but has been mumbling about the need to hold extensive hearings. And Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, was making ominous, cowardly remarks over the weekend about tailoring whatever the Senate does to what he thinks could get through a House dominated by the far-right fringe of the Republican Party. He has started to wriggle away from the idea of an assault weapons ban, for example.
This is not a time for lawmakers to do the politically safe thing or the N.R.A.-approved thing, even if they know it is less than needed. It is time to reach for big ideas and strong laws on gun violence.