“You see, when a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations – to try to impose some order on the chaos, and make sense out of that which seems senseless. Already we’ve seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems. Much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.
“So yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.”
With those words, President Obama summed up the collective grief of a nation and the resolve to address a prickly issue – gun violence – and start setting things right.
But he didn’t utter them this week in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy.
He said them nearly a full two years ago after the January 2011 Tucson shootings that wounded Gabby Giffords.
What happened to that “national conversation,” Mr. President? What good came of it?
If there was a conversation, a debate – call it what you will, sir – it didn’t last long enough, and it sure didn’t prevent or lessen the violence. We have been passive. And here we are, Groundhog Day all over again.
“And I hope that over the next several days, next several weeks, and next several months, we all reflect on how we can do something about some of the senseless violence that ends up marring this country.”
Those were your words after the Aurora massacre, just five months ago.
Then weeks later, in a statement following the August Sikh Temple slaughter: “Michelle and I were deeply saddened to learn of the shooting that tragically took so many lives in Wisconsin.”
Then following the mass murder at a Wisconsin hair salon in October: “The President and First Lady’s thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this horrible shooting and their families.”
Aren’t you getting tired by now, Mr. President, of issuing such reaction statements? Of traveling to the communities of these shootings – Tucson, Aurora, and now Newtown – and strapping on a mask of sadness and wallowing in such hand-wringing? It’s most unpresidential.
Aren’t you tired of having to look families of victims in the eyes, tears welling up inside you, and tell them that their loved ones did not die in vain, that America’s leaders will fix what ails us about our gun-obsessive, gun-brandishing, pry-my-gun-from-my-cold-dead-hands culture?
Have you not tired yet of mouthing the same old promise to new audiences of the shell-shocked and heartbroken, a promise that has gone unfulfilled by you and the Congress, all too many of whose members suckle at the teets of an all-mighty gun lobby that showers campaign donations upon the congressional whores that put out for it while threatening political extinction for those who oppose it?
Ours is a sick society in dire need of an antidote, yet the doctor still hasn’t gotten out his prescription pad. We’re still waiting.
Meanwhile, Americans are still dying. This time, 20 elementary school children paid in blood. A tipping point, many believe this to be.
This might now finally be the time when the nation resumes the debate and actually does something about the violence.
This might now finally be when a revulsed people and their leaders in D.C. and across the land resolve to pass, reform, or revive legislation to stem it, close loopholes, and stiffen enforcement of existing laws.
This might now finally be when we address the mental health and safety education components of gun sales and ownership.
Excuse me, though, but I think I’ll retain my skepticism until after I’ve seen evidence to that effect. After all, we’ve been here before and before and…
I was planning to address the recent spate of murder-suicides in our nation (most notable of which was the Kansas City Chiefs linebacker who killed his girlfriend, then himself) as well as in our own backyard when news of last Friday’s tragedy broke.
In a few short days, we have all come to know yet another community by name – Newtown – like ones with which we’ve become familiar in the past: Columbine. Aurora. We know them for reasons of notability no local Chamber of Commerce would ever desire.
Weep tears from the press room rostrum all you like, Mr. President, but did we hear you once utter a word from the campaign trail all summer or fall about the violence from this string of shootings since you took office, or about the urgent need of Washington to redress this national emergency?
Likewise, did we hear any word from Mr. Romney and his NRA-teet-suckling brethren in the GOP? Of course not.
Have we witnessed any concerted push by the congressional leadership of either party to reinstate the 1994 assault weapons ban since it was allowed to lapse eight years ago? Alas, no.
Where is the leadership? Plenty of crocodile tears, plenty of hand-wringing. But little or no leadership from out of Washington.
Democrats for the most part are too scared of the gun lobby while Republicans for the most part can’t grind out a lap dance close enough for the generous sugar daddy who’s stuffing their g-strings with wads of campaign cash. Until now, no one was much inclined to speak of introducing new gun control legislation, lest the gun lobby be aroused to anger and action. (NBC’s Meet the Press dispatched invites to all 31 pro-gun senators to talk about the Newtown tragedy on Sunday’s show. None accepted.)
Last week’s bloodshed might have been enough to galvanize some action in that direction, but I wouldn’t bet on it. After all, the Tucson and Aurora bloodshed produced the following corrective legislation from Capitol Hill: ____________.
We have laws in place to prevent the mentally ill from acquiring guns, of course. But how does a society realistically enforce that provision when there is no ironclad way of determining the mental state of a prospective buyer absent of actual medical records, which are not easily obtainable and whose confidentiality has built-in protections?
A criminal history can be easily consulted by a gun seller. And he may even be able to determine if a prospective buyer has ever been institutionalized or declared mentally ill by a court. But what of those mentally ill who have never been through the system, been diagnosed, been treated? What of those who are ticking time bombs whose timing mechanisms have yet to be started?
The guns used in Newtown were legally purchased and owned not by its mentally unstable user but rather by his mentally-sound mother. Are we to now ask of all potential gun buyers that they vouch for the mental soundness of all members of their household? Or anyone for that matter who may ever come in contact, intended or not, with their weapons? How do you begin to do that? Impossible.
So we have a predicament.
Time’s Joe Klein made this sobering point on ABC’s This Week on Sunday: “We got rid of mental hospitals in this country 50 years ago, and that was a good thing. They were supposed to be replaced by medication and by residential settings, like halfway houses, but nobody wanted to have halfway houses in their neighborhoods. So we have abdicated our responsibility to the mentally ill in this country, to the parents of the mentally ill who are suffering right now.”
I have heard the stunning number given several times this week – something in the ballpark of 300 million – the number of guns there are in the U.S. We have as many guns as there are Americans. Whatever you may feel about gun control, that’s just too many weapons in our homes, in our closets, in our drawers, under our beds, on our persons.
A person residing in a home that houses a gun is 22 times more likely to die by that gun, another stark statistic I learned this week. You can be sure an inordinate number of such victims are apt to be children, because mommy or daddy may have been too careless, too irresponsible, too stupid a gun owner.
My fellow columnist at the New York Times, David Brooks, speaking the other day on the PBS Newshour, offered that “if we want to prevent something like this, we have to really think seriously about drastically reducing the number of guns in our society, and particularly – this is an old Daniel Patrick Moynihan idea – the number of bullets. It is very hard to control 300 million guns. The bullets are a little easier to control.”
An idea worthy of serious consideration. If we’re so reluctant to regulate guns or the people who buy and deploy them, perhaps tighten control of the bullets these instruments propel.
Without a bullet, a gun becomes but an impotent object. Yes, I guess one could still pistol whip somebody with one, but that’s about all the damage it could do. Far more preferable to the damage done by a bullet.
NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who in the wake of this spate of shootings has evolved as perhaps the nation’s foremost and most outspoken gun control advocate, told Charlie Rose that action is overdue.
“The president gave a speech after the massacre in Aurora…saying we’ve got to do something. Here we are two years later, another 21,000 people in America killed with guns and we’ve done nothing. I don’t know at what point do you have to say
enough is enough. We’ve been killing 34 Americans every single day – that’s bigger than Virginia Tech – every single day.”
On Meet the Press, the mayor took the president and Congress to task again:
“He’s the commander-in-chief as well as the consoler-in-chief. And he calls for action, but he called for action two years ago. It’s time for the president to stand up and lead and tell this country what we should do. This should be his number one agenda. And if he does nothing during his second term, something like 48,000 Americans will be killed with illegal guns. That is roughly the number of Americans killed in the whole Vietnam War.”
What can a president and Congress do? Bloomberg offered some answers.
“What the president can do is, number one: through executive action he can order his agencies to enforce the laws more aggressively. There’s something like 77,000 people who have been accused of lying when they applied for a gun permit. We’ve only prosecuted 77 of them.
“The president can introduce legislation even if it doesn’t get passed. The president campaigned back in 2008 on a bill that would prohibit assault weapons. We’ve got to really question whether military-style weapons with big magazines belong on the streets of America in this day and age. Nobody questions the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, but I don’t think the Founding Fathers had the idea that every man, woman, and child could carry an assault weapon. And I think the president through his leadership could get a bill like that through Congress. But at least he’s got to try. That’s his job.
“The only gun legislation that the president has signed…is the right to carry a gun in national parks where our kids play, and one is the right to carry guns on Amtrak.
“I assume,” Bloomberg sarcastically injected, “that’s to stop the rash of train robberies which stopped back in the 1800s.”
“If Congress were to act, if Congress wasn’t so afraid of the NRA…if they were to stand up and do what was right for the American public, we’d all be a lot better off. And Congress has the ability to do this.”
As families and neighbors grieve, as Americans from coast to coast pause and ponder, our leaders have gone deafeningly silent and immobile. As horrible as the Newtown tragedy is, what would be nearly as horrible is if we take no lesson from this, exert no resolve to change the status quo.
If we are to stem these slaughters, we must first exact more from our leaders. Words and promises will no longer do. Action must now ensue.
The time for sitting on one’s ass as usual is over. Get off of them, you leaders, and start fixing this sorry situation, before the next Tucson, the next Aurora, the next Newport, before one more man, woman, or child perishes into this unstopping, unceasing whirlpool of deterrable senselessness.
No more Groundhog Days.
THIS WEEK’S ASS-WIPE TROPHY GOES TO…
…Mike Huckabee, for blaming the shootings on the removal of “God from our schools.”
I like the response Steve McSwain gave. He’s a former Baptist minister and nationally-prominent interfaith activist:
“With such remarks, you not only show little regard for those broken by this tragedy, but you make God into some kind of a cosmic psychopath – vengeful, sickeningly repulsive, one who takes out his madness on innocent little children. Your reasoning is repulsive: Because we have removed your god from our schools, this is how your god gets even?”
And the trophy also goes to all those who had the temerity, audacity (or stupidity) this week to suggest that the solution is to arm teachers. Right. Just what we need. More guns in schools when we’re trying to keep schools free of weapons.
If the world does not end tomorrow, can these morons still be “raptured” on out of here? For all our sakes? Please?