Obama in Newtown: 'We must change'
The gun-porn websites are very turned on by the Bushmaster .223 semi-automatic rifle. It's named for a venomous snake, it retails for only 600 bucks, it features a 30-round aluminum magazine that's "guaranteed to feed and function," it fires at a velocity of 3000 feet per second, its bullets explode inside human tissue, it's manufactured by a corporate entity called the Freedom Group (natch), so, all told, it's quite a honey. Right?
"Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeline, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Benjamin, Avielle, Allison..."
Last night, as President Obama slowly enunciated the names of the Bushmaster's pint-sized victims, each of whom were riddled multiple times, I couldn't help but wonder whether this particular tragedy finally signals a turning point - a turning away from American's wan acceptance of random high-capacity murder. The key passage in Obama's Newtown eulogy:
"We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this. If there's even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.
"In the coming weeks, I'll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"
It may be impossible to enact sensible gun control - starting with a resumption of the assault weapons ban that was allowed to expire in 2004 - because (a) those politicians who wish to do so remain terrified of the gun-fetish lobby, and (b) those politicians who don't wish to do so remain ideologically sympatico with the gun-fetish lobby. The resistent lawmakers will never face the fact that America leads the "civilized" western world in massacres because America provides such easy access to instruments of slaughter. The NRA and its Capitol Hill supplicants won't abide a new assault ban, even though police organizations want such a ban - and even though George W. Bush's Justice Department warned in 2004, that the Bushmaster and similar weapons "result in more shots fired, more persons hit, and more wounds inflicted per victim than do attacks with other firearms."
When that Justice Department study was issued, the 20 kids shot repeatedly in Newtown had not even been born yet.
But regardless of whether common-sense reforms are enacted, Obama at least recognizes that, in his words last night, "we have an obligation to try." He didn't propose any specific legislation - he said only that, in the weeks ahead, he plans to "engage" everybody, via the presidential bully pulpit - and we'll have to see whether this engagement has any kind of shelf life. What is he really prepared to do, to confront the gun-fetish lobby? Can his megaphone truly trump the NRA, which has been silent since the Friday slaughter but which undoubtedly is prepared, once again, to leverage its power behind the scenes?
At minimum, Obama has a broad constituency that is willing to listen - not everyone, of course, given the racist complaints on Twitter last night, from football aficionados who were furious that "the n----r" was preempting their sainted pigskin - but certainly tens of millions of Americans (suburban professionals, college-educated women, parents with a pulse) who are as fed up as he is. Indeed, there is also broad support for specific kinds of gun reform. According to a CNN-ORC national poll conducted last August, 54 percent of Americans say yes to a ban on the manufacture, sale, and possession of semi-automatic assault weapons (such as the Bushmaster," and only 42 percent say no. And 60 percent say yes to a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips, with only 40 percent saying no. Those steps would be a start, as would better policies to detect and treat mental illness.
It's not enough, as Obama acknowledged last night, to give up on reform just because "the politics is too hard." What matters now is that the president establish the moral parameters of this issue, and buttress it in the policy realm. He can't usher in nirvana; the 300 million guns currently in circulation will remain in circulation. And he may fail on Capitol Hill. But it's better than acting helpless as the flags are lowered yet again.
What's the point of killing Osama bin Laden, if you're not willing to confront the lethal enemy within us?
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