Obama Takes on Extremism on Guns

Frederick Deligne, Nice-Matin, France

WASHINGTON — President Obama went big in offering a remarkably comprehensive plan to curb gun violence, and good for him. But his announcement Wednesday is only the beginning of a protracted struggle for national sanity on firearms. Extremists have controlled the debate on guns for many years. They will do all they can to preserve a bloody status quo. The irrationality of their approach must be exposed and their power broken.

Far from acting as if his work was now done, the president made clear that he is fully invested in seeing his agenda realized — and fully prepared to lead a national movement to loosen the grip of resignation and cynicism in the face of brutality and carnage. Gun violence is not some “boutique” issue, as it is occasionally called. We are in danger of having mass shootings define us as a nation. As a people, we must rise up against this obscenity.

This fight is especially challenging for many who view themselves as “moderates” or “centrists.” Moderation is a thoroughly honorable disposition, and Obama’s proposals are moderation incarnate. By international standards, they are very cautious. The president did not call for registering all guns or confiscating assault weapons. He strongly endorsed the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. He is operating within a broad consensus about what is possible and what can work.

An assault weapons ban received 38 Republican votes in the House in 1994 and is backed by 58 percent of Americans, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll. Were those Republicans outside the mainstream? And what about that 58 percent of Americans? The poll also found that 65 percent favored a ban on high-capacity magazines, another part of the Obama plan, and 88 percent favored closing the gun show loophole, part of the effort to make sure there are background checks for all gun purchases.

But the lobbies that purport to speak for gun owners (while actually representing the interests of gun manufacturers) don’t care what the public thinks. They tried to pretend the president’s ideas are radical. And it shows how perverse our national conversation can become when those who speak in the name of civility, reason and bipartisanship give in to timidity.

Too often, moderation has become a synonym for cowardice. Too often, moderates lack the guts to define the sensible middle of the road themselves — as Obama has done on the gun issue — and then defend it. Instead, they yield to the temptation to calibrate where everyone else stands before deciding what they believe. This allows extremists who lack any shame to drag our discourse off the road entirely, into a ditch of unreason, fear and invective.

After the NRA’s vile new advertisement that uses Secret Service protection for the president’s daughters to make a small-minded political point, can anyone take the organization’s arguments seriously again? Aren’t politicians who continue to bow low before the NRA complicit with a crowd that lacks any sense of decency?

It tells us all we need to know that the gun lobby is deeply afraid of the facts and the evidence. This is why one of the most important actions the president took was to end the ban on research into gun violence by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the weapons lobby had forced through a compliant Congress.

Yet Obama and Vice President Joe Biden also worked hard to find middle ground in their anti-violence program in drawing on concerns raised since the Sandy Hook tragedy by gun rights advocates. Obama thus addressed not only firearms issues but also the imperative to improve school security and our mental health system, as well as the need to know more about the impact of violent video games.

Most heartening of all was the tone the president took. He did not cast himself as an evenhanded umpire far above the fray, handing down ideas that all people of good will would inevitably accept. He acknowledged that the battle ahead would be difficult. He predicted he would have to fight the lie that his plan constituted “a tyrannical assault on liberty.” And he sought to mobilize a new effort to counteract the entrenched power of those who have dictated submissiveness in the face of bloodshed.

“Enough,” Obama declared, insisting that change would come only “if the American people demand it.”

Will we?


E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com (c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group

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Author: E.J. DIONNE, JR., WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST

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4 Comments

  1. The silence from the “pro-gun” side is deafening.

    I wish the NRA would tell them what they think so we can hear what all the independent, free-thinking, pro-”anything with bullets” folks think of President Obama’s proposals.

  2. It seems the basis of the NRA’s arguments ride on the legitimacy of many statistical studies involving the use of weapons—ones that have failed to provide positive evidence that gun regulations really lower violence or save lives. But most of the fact checking organizations I’ve checked out point to the fact that nearly all of these studies have been statistically flawed by failing to include important data, or by failing to consider the over-all picture. Some of these flaws include the fact that, even when assault weapons have been banned, many millions of them remain in circulation anyway, and, are therefore, within the grasp of sick people who desire to use them in mass shootings.

    journalistic efforts undertaken by publications like MOTHER JONES, have indeed discovered that more than two thirds of all the weapons used in American mass shootings during the last thirty years, have been the assault weapons in question. More importantly, in over three decades absolutely no attempt by a well armed civilian to stop a mass shooter has been successful!

    Another important point is that, through the power of lobbyists used by the NRA,
    many loopholes have been conveniently created to get around regulations—So, weapons are sometimes changed slightly, or even renamed, so that they are then sell-able on the open market. It has also been found that huge numbers of people have been given a pass in background checks or have not even been required submit to such checks—many of which have felony records or histories of mental illness. So are gun advocates really interested in the second amendments, or really interested in gun manufacturers and retail outlets making large amounts of money?

    The NRA also bases it’s argument using the 2nd amendment, on the assumption that the right to bear arms includes the purchase of assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons, as part of an open ended, sort of, infinite scale. But we all know civilians are not allowed to own machine guns, bazookas, flame throwers and/or tanks, even though these all are other forms of “arms” that the second amendment could very well be considered justified in trying to protect. However, because of their deadliness and extreme power as such weapons, the NRA would no doubt say, it is only common sense that they are not allowed to be possessed by average citizens. So, why then don’t they extend this common sense approach to limiting extremely powerful and efficient weapons like semi-automatic assault weapons and extremely large ammunition clips? Does the average citizen really need 30 rounds to repel and intruder? And does he need to fire those rounds in rapid sequences? Most reasonable Americans think not! And, when attempting to render banning such rounds and ammo clips as useless preventative measures, gun advocates miss the point that, if ammo and clips are truly limited, shooters will not be able to continue their assaults for nearly as long!

    Although the Constitution grantees all legal age voters, who have validly registered to vote, the exercise of that right, this doesn’t mean we have the right to vote without properly registering, or to cast our votes, several times in one election. Likewise, the first amendment allows us all to have freedom of expression, but not to yell fire in a crowded theater. The police can also arrest and search the homes of suspected criminals, but not without a warrant issued on the basis of “reasonable cause”. The eighth Amendment also authorizes punishments and fines, but not cruel and unusual punishments or fines! Thus,we can undoubtedly continue to read limitations and conditions inherently built into all or our 27 Constitutional Amendments. So then, why should the 2nd be any exception?

    There are those who may justifiably claim that criminals will use other weapons, or that semi-automatic weapons with small clips can be changed in seconds—allowing criminals to achieve equal carnage anyway, but, if we buy back those weapons that are already in existence and impose fines on those who do not relinquish them—along with REALLY enforcing regulations that can not be ignored by using absurd loopholes—eventually these weapons of choice used in mass shootings will no longer be available to the mentally ill! Or to anyone who might use them for deadly purposes.

    Although all of these changes are really quite possible, we continue to worship the second amendment as if every word in it were completely sacred and universally applicable. We continue to argue about how to define terms like “assault weapons, or semi-automatics when really, we all know what these terms refer to—they refer to the weapons used in the Aurora movie theater or those used against innocent children in Newtown. Endlessly defining them and elaborating on each legal issue as if we were discussing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, is a completely wasted and diversionary strategy. Why, instead, don’t we simply do what we KNOW needs to be done.

    I like another poster’s comments about those who carry concealed weapons: “all it takes is one armed bad guy, to kill an armed good guy!” We are completely missing the point with our endless arguments intended to diminish the need for real and honest regulations!

  3. So are gun advocates really interested in the second amendments, or really interested in gun manufacturers and retail outlets making large amounts of money?

    Most gun advocates have been duped into thinking they are interested in “protecting” the second amendment when in fact they are only protecting gun manufacturers and retail outlets. This is quite clear when they back, as a needed protection for the second amendment, laws that exempt gun manufacturers from regulation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, one of the only products that has a blanket exemption, and tort laws that prevent the manufacture from even being named as a potential defendant by victims of gun violence. Both of these laws don’t do anything to protect individual access to firearms.

    I haven’t been able to read the entirety of President Obama’s proposals but I’ve been disappointed that the early coverage has not listed elimination of these laws as potential legislative actions that should be addressed.

  4. Well said petew. It isn’t so much that the NRA doesn’t know there is a line, but where the line is – and should be.

    So, why then don’t they extend this common sense approach to limiting extremely powerful and efficient weapons like semi-automatic assault weapons and extremely large ammunition clips?

    One word: Profits. 2nd amendment cultists seem willing dupes in all this, but they’ve been conditioned for years to believe NRA talking points.

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