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“The Gun Lobby’s Con Game Will Come To An End”: Only Fearlessness Will Flip The Politics Of Guns

The apologists for the weapons industry — they pass themselves off as the gun-rights movement — demonstrate their intellectual bankruptcy by regularly contradicting themselves with a straight face.

On the one hand, President Obama’s modest initiatives to keep guns out of the wrong hands are denounced as an outlandish abuse of his executive powers. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) showed why the Republican far right has such faith in him by declaring that Obama’s “words and actions amount to a form of intimidation that undermines liberty.” Accusing a president of undermining liberty is a nice way of encouraging those who see him as a dictator.

Yet there was the National Rifle Association itself making fun of Obama’s actions for being puny. “This is it, really?” said the NRA’s Jennifer Baker. “They’re not really doing anything.” The same NRA put up a frightening online video declaring that Obama is “our biggest threat to national security.” So a president who’s “not really doing anything” is also a menacing tyrant.

This is an old trick on the part of those who will not budge, no matter how many Americans are killed by firearms. Their favorite ploy is to say that since there are already so many guns out there — some estimates run to more than 300 million — no particular practical measure will do much of anything to stem the violence. It’s hard to know the exact number, by the way, partly because the NRA and its congressional enablers impede gun research.

But as soon as the weapons extremists have said that sane action is useless in the face of so many guns, they turn around and assert that those who support universal background checks and other small steps are secretly in favor of gun confiscation. Wait a minute: In one breath, they are implying, against all their other assertions, that the problem really is too many guns; in the next, they are condemning those who propose any regulations as would-be despots who want to disarm the country — the only thing their own rhetoric suggests would make a real difference. Welcome to a new philosophical concept: circular illogic.

That the gun lobby has managed to make this con game work so well for so long is a national scandal, and it drove the president to tears on Tuesday.

But something important happened in the East Room when Obama offered a series of constrained but useful steps toward limiting the carnage on our streets, in our schools and houses of worship and movie theaters. He made clear that the era of cowering before the gun lobby and apologizing, trimming, hedging and equivocating is over.

On the policy front, his commitment to innovative gun-safety technology that would confine the use of a weapon to its owner has exceptional promise. What have come to be known as “smart guns” could reduce the use of stolen weapons in crime and also prevent accidents. Obama made a point every parent can relate to: “If a child can’t open a bottle of aspirin, we should make sure that they can’t pull a trigger on a gun.” Someone should ask Speaker Ryan if such safety measures for drugs or guns undermine our liberties.

And when it came to the politics of guns, Obama drew lines as he has never drawn them before. He explicitly called out the “90 percent of Republicans in the Senate” who opposed universal background checks in the fateful roll call after the Newtown, Conn., massacre. As Obama put it, advocates of gun reform will need to “find the courage to vote” on the issue, and also have “the courage to get mobilized and organized.”

“All of us,” he said, “need to demand a Congress brave enough to stand up to the gun lobby’s lies.”

Obama isn’t running for reelection, but the 2016 Democratic presidential candidates have shown that they, too, are unafraid to take on those who remain unmoved by death after death. At this point, Democrats have little to lose. Only fearlessness will flip the politics of guns and begin to put Republicans on the defensive. Surely some in the GOP know that their party cannot forever embrace an irrational absolutism that leaves the country powerless before unconscionable carnage.

Bullies are intimidating until someone calls their bluff. By ruling out any reasonable steps toward containing the killing in our nation and by offering ever more preposterous arguments, the gun worshipers are setting themselves up for wholesale defeat. It will take time. But it will happen.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 6, 2016

January 10, 2016 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Deaths, Gun Lobby, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The End Of The Democratic Party’s Silent Era On Guns”: Has President Obama Broken The Political Stalemate On Guns?

On Thursday night, for the first time since he rolled out his plan to expand background checks for guns, President Barack Obama publicly faced his critics—some of them, that is. His audience of several dozen at a CNN-hosted town hall included a mother and rape survivor, a shooting-range owner, and an Arizona sheriff, all of whom questioned Obama’s approach to the gun-violence epidemic. The only voice missing was the one that has long overshadowed these debates—the National Rifle Association. NRA officials declined their CNN invitation, preferring the comfort of Fox News to what they labeled a “public relations spectacle.”

Obama was ready to pounce on the NRA’s absence; he looked most at ease during the hour-plus event whenever he was attacking and counterpointing the group. Early on, host Anderson Cooper asked the president about the NRA’s absence. “Since this is a main reason they exist, you’d think that they’d be prepared to have a debate with the president,” he said, pointing out (pointedly) that their headquarters was just “right down the street.”

Only a few minutes in, Obama had already shed the last of his overly cautious image on guns. And he’d begun to give Democratic candidates in 2016 an object lesson in how to talk about gun control—and its fiercest foes.

For most of his time in office, Obama has mostly treaded carefully on the issue, calling on Congress to take action after each round of national mourning for a mass shooting rather than tapping into his own (albeit limited) presidential powers to take action. As a candidate, he was similarly cautious. Finally, at the Virginia town hall, Obama proved he has outgrown any fear of the gun lobby.

Democratic candidates, presidential and otherwise, have long been silent and defensive on gun control, fearing that gun owners’ distrust, stoked by NRA spending, would cost them elections. That thinking dates back at least to 1994, when Democrats lost Congress and the defeat was partly chalked up to backlash from the recently passed assault-weapons ban. The conventional wisdom only solidified when Al Gore lost his home state of Tennessee in 2000, costing Democrats the White House—another loss blamed, with scant evidence, on the Democratic candidate’s support for the assault-weapons ban and other forms of gun control.

It took roughly 20 years, but Obama has finally marked the end of the Democratic Party’s silent era on guns. His executive actions and last night’s forum mark the start—a strong one—to 2016, a year in which Democrats may finally learn to talk straight about the NRA and make combatting gun violence an issue they use to win votes, rather than shrink from.

Obama may not have convinced any of his NRA opponents that all he wants are modest measures, but he doesn’t need to. The NRA’s base won’t move, no matter what Democrats do or don’t do. But the vast majority of Americans already agree with the president on sensible background checks. Some 90 percent support background checks for guns, and in a poll before the town hall, CNN found that 67 percent of Americans support Obama’s recent executive actions.

Yet when asked about the likely effectiveness of his actions, the polls flip, showing nearly one in six think they won’t reduce gun deaths. It’s those sympathetic-but-skeptical Americans who Obama addressed most effectively on Thursday, giving us a preview of how the next Democratic presidential nominee will likely frame the party’s message on guns. “The goal here is just to make progress,” he said—incremental, but life-saving, progress.

Obama has given Democrats a template for how to navigate the gun-control issue in 2016. In his final year of office, he’s come out in front on gun violence, experimenting with the right message and providing his fellow Democrats with some political cover by taking the flak for it. He offered a roadmap on Thursday to the two Democratic presidential frontrunners—and candidates down-ballot as well—on how to campaign for gun reform.

First, he was (mostly) up-front about his own experience with guns. In the past, Obama has sometimes done his version of the compulsory “Democratic candidate goes hunting” photo-op, referencing his passion for hunting and skeet shooting (to be fair, he did mention it in passing on Thursday). But gun owners (along with everyone else) have long known enough to dismiss that as pandering. Obama’s far more effective moments at the forum came when he spoke about his other experience with guns, including Chicago’s gun violence, which has taken victims just blocks from his home.

Second, he knew who he was trying to convince: people who are already concerned about gun violence, but aren’t convinced that new regulations are really going to help. He turned to gun owners in the audience more than once, explaining that people “less responsible” than them shouldn’t be able to get a gun without a background check. And he came back again and again to his broader argument: “There’s nothing else in our lives that we purchase where we don’t try to make it a little safer if we can,” he said, comparing the gun industry to cars, toys, and medicine that have become safer with regulation.

Finally, Obama knew his enemy, and called the NRA out for its spin. At one point, Cooper asked him if it’s fair to call the idea he wants to take everybody’s guns a conspiracy, since “a lot of people really believe this deeply.” Obama—so visibly frustrated he mixed up Anderson Cooper’s name—cut in: “I’m sorry, Cooper. Yes, it is fair to call it a conspiracy. What are you saying? Are you suggesting that the notion that we are creating a plot to take everybody’s guns away so that we can impose martial law is a conspiracy? Yes, that is a conspiracy!”

It’s too soon, of course, to know if Obama’s approach will prove politically popular or just manage to embolden the NRA’s base—probably both. But Democrats appear more and more inclined to stop tiptoeing around the issue and the NRA. Hillary Clinton proposed an almost-identical plan to Obama’s executive actions last fall, a promising sign she’d continue Obama’s march if she becomes the nominee. Bernie Sanders also recently embraced Obama’s actions. If this year’s Democratic nominee pushes further ideas for using executive powers to make incremental progress on gun control—and calls out the NRA and its arguments with anything near the force that Obama showed on Thursday—then we’ll know the stalemate on guns in electoral politics has finally broken.

 

By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, January 8, 2015

January 9, 2016 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Control, Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Out In The Fever Swamps”:The One Thing To Know About Obama’s Philosophy On Executive Actions

There he goes again: President Barack Obama is issuing an executive order to tighten regulations of gun sales to make background checks modestly more effective. And in doing so, Obama is thumbing his nose at Republicans who claim his habit of end-running the legislative branch to act on his own reveals a dictatorial temperament and perhaps even a threat to the Constitution. Out in the fever swamps, the conspiracy theory holding that Obama is going to cancel the presidential elections and rule by decree will gain new adherents. And here and there (and from “centrist” pundits as well as Republicans) you will hear angry talk about the president once again betraying the bipartisanship he promised to bring to Washington back in 2008. You’ll even hear some progressive and Democratic validation of this treatment in the form of claims that Obama is pursuing extremism in the defense of this or that urgent policy goal.

Obama himself laid the political groundwork for this action not by insisting on his as opposed to Republicans’ ideas about gun safety, but by noting repeatedly that the Republican-led Congress has refused to act even in the wake of catastrophes like those at Sandy Hook and San Bernardino. Here’s the relevant statement from the White House:

The president has made clear the most impactful way to address the crisis of gun violence in our country is for Congress to pass some common sense gun safety measures. But the president has also said he’s fully aware of the unfortunate political realities in this Congress. That is why he has asked his team to scrub existing legal authorities to see if there’s any additional action we can take administratively.

If you look back at Obama’s record on big executive actions — on guns, climate change, and immigration — you see the same situation. It’s not that he’s fought for “liberal” as opposed to “conservative” policies in these areas. It’s that congressional Republicans, pressured by conservative opinion-leaders and interest groups, have refused to do anything at all. They are in denial about climate change and in paralyzing internal disagreement on immigration, and refuse to consider any new gun regulations. So there’s literally no one to hold bipartisan negotiations with on these issues, and no way to reach common ground. In all these cases, the absence of action creates its own dreadful policies, most notably on immigration where a refusal to set enforcement priorities and to fund them forces arbitrary actions no one supports.

So taking executive actions is hardly a betrayal of bipartisanship, but rather a forlorn plea for it. And it’s significant that Obama is usually acting on issues in which the Republican rank-and-file are far more supportive of action than their purported representatives in Congress.

Back during his announcement of candidacy in 2007, Obama made it reasonably clear that he didn’t just want to cut deals between the two parties in Washington, but also intended to force action on them when gridlock prevailed. After discussing several national challenges, he said:

What’s stopped us from meeting these challenges is not the absence of sound policies and sensible plans. What’s stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics — the ease with which we’re distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems.

Knowing that a Republican president could and probably would roll back all his executive actions, Obama is not taking a preferred course of action. If, of course, a Democratic succeeds him, his policies will take root and probably endure. Eventually, the two parties may come to agree on the challenges the country faces, and then have actual discussions — and disagreements and competition — over how to address them. That’s bipartisanship. And counterintuitive as it may seem, Obama’s executive actions may be necessary to produce bipartisanship down the road.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, January 5, 2016

January 7, 2016 Posted by | Bipartisanship, Gun Regulations, Gun Violence, Republican Obstructionalism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Obama’s Gun Speech Was One For The Ages”: It Will Be Remembered For A Long Time To Come

For a president who sometimes is criticized as too cerebral and lacking emotion, the memories he carries from comforting grieving families in Tucson, Fort Hood, Binghamton, Aurora, Oak Creek, Newtown, the Navy Yard, Santa Barbara, Charleston, and San Bernardino came together in what history will likely record as one of President Obama’s landmark speeches on Tuesday.

It was an effort to bring urgency to the gun issue in the same way he rescued his candidacy with a speech about race when he first ran for the White House. And for the gun-safety advocates and gun-violence survivors packed into the East Room of the White House on Tuesday morning, it was a huge moment in a fight that for too long has seemed stalemated.

“The gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage now, but they can’t hold America hostage,” Obama declared as he outlined the executive actions he is taking to circumvent Congress and expand background checks to cover the growing commerce of guns over the Internet.

“This is a great day for responsible gun owners,” said retired astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly, whose wife, Gabby Giffords, got a standing ovation as she entered the East Room. Then-U.S. Rep. Giffords was shot in the head along with 18 others outside a supermarket in Tucson five years ago this week. “We’re grateful to the president for standing up to the gun lobby,” Kelly said after the White House event, describing himself to reporters as a strong supporter of the Second Amendment.

Obama’s nearly 40-minute long speech was thankfully more sermon than college lecture as he sought to mobilize activists and voters alike for the long battle ahead. And one point, tears visibly streamed down his face. He didn’t use the word “movement” to describe the increasing array of gun-safety groups, some launched in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, but he reminded his audience that the women’s right to vote and the liberation of African Americans didn’t happen overnight, and LGBT rights took decades of work.

“Just because it’s hard, it’s no excuse not to try,” he said as he acknowledged the obvious, that gun violence and the scourge of mass shootings will extend beyond his presidency.

He expressed his puzzlement at how American society has reached a point where mass violence erupts with such frequency that it seems almost normal “and instead of talking about how to solve the problem, it’s become one of the most partisan and polarizing debates.” He put in a plug for a town meeting he is doing Thursday evening that will be televised on CNN. “I’m not on the ballot again. I’m not looking to score some points,” he said, adding that he wants to instill what Dr. King called, “the fierce urgency of now.”

“People are dying and the constant excuses for inaction no longer suffice,” Obama said. “We’re here not to debate the last mass shooting but to do something to prevent the next mass shooting,” a statement that got a big round of applause.

Obama’s rhetoric and his invocations of some of the lives lost brought people to tears, including Attorney General Loretta Lynch, top aide Valerie Jarrett, and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. Every year more than 30,000 Americans die in gun suicides, domestic violence, gang shootouts, and accidents, and hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost family members or buried their children.

“Many have had to learn to live with a disability, or without the love of their life,” Obama said. “Here today in this room, right here, there are a lot of stories, a lot of heartache… and this is only a small sample.”

After the event, several people stood out in the White House driveway in the bitter cold telling their stories. Among them was Jennifer Pinckney, the widow of slain Charleston minister Clementa Pinckney. She held a framed photograph of her husband as she told reporters about how her young daughters are frightened by any sound that could be a gunshot.

After Sandy Hook, Obama signed 23 executive orders reinforcing federal law in an attempt to restrain gun violence, and it’s taken the last year to navigate the legal thickets where Obama felt confident enough to go forward with closing the so-called “gun show loophole.” New guidelines on who qualifies as a gun dealer went up on an administration website as the president spoke.

Noting that two in three gun deaths is a suicide, Obama wants Congress to do more to fund access to mental health treatment. To those in Congress who rush to blame mental illness as a way to avoid the gun issue, he said, “Here’s your chance to support these efforts.” He also pledged to put the federal government’s research arm, including the Defense Department, behind gun-safety technology. “If a child can’t open a bottle of aspirin, we need to make sure they can’t pull the trigger on a gun.”

The expansion of background checks so that people with criminal records, domestic-assault violations, and severe mental illness can’t buy guns is popular with all groups, including 64 percent of gun owners and 56 percent of those who describe themselves as “favorable toward the NRA,” according to pollster Anna Greenberg, who conducted the survey just before Thanksgiving for Americans for Responsible Gun Solutions, founded by Kelly and Giffords. Ninety percent of millennials support the kind of action Obama took, Greenberg said.

Elected officials have long memories, and Bill Clinton still blames the Democrats’ loss of Congress in 1994 on their support for the Brady Bill and an assault weapons ban. A lot of big names went down in that election, and gun regulation went down with them. What Obama did this week is “the most significant achievement since the Brady Bill” more than 20 years ago, said Kelly.

It’s a nice twist of fate that Hillary Clinton might be able to capitalize on the shift. “Thank you, @POTUS, for taking a crucial step forward on gun violence. Our next president has to build on that progress—not rip it away” she tweeted after Obama’s speech. Guns are on the agenda in 2016, and Democrats are no longer cowering, which signals a cultural shift that goes beyond Obama’s still rather limited executive actions.

 

By: Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast, January 6, 2016

January 7, 2016 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Deaths, Gun Violence, President Obama | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republicans’ Do-Nothingness On Guns”: Assuming A Superior Posture Of Purposeful Neglect

It is axiomatic that congressional Republicans will oppose anything smacking of “gun control,” which may as well be read as “ your mama.”

Thus, it comes as no surprise that President Obama’s announcement of executive actions to clarify and enhance federal gun laws prompted reflexive, hyperbolic responses from the right.

Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) said “Obama is obsessed with undermining the Second Amendment,” while Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) averred, “We don’t beat the bad guys by taking away our guns. We beat the bad guys by using our guns.”

Spoken like a true Canadian-born Texan who has been busy burnishing his “outsider” Outdoor Guy image. What’s next? Cruz drinking the warm blood of a freshly slain (unarmed) beast?

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) criticized the president for a “dangerous level of executive overreach” and for circumventing congressional opposition — as though Congress has been working feverishly to reduce gun violence. Rather, Republicans focus their laser beams on Obama’s and the Democratic Party’s political motivations, shocking to none, and remind us that we already have enough gun laws.

This may well be true, but couldn’t we stand to tweak them a bit? Or, perhaps, enforce them? And isn’t it possible to reduce the number of guns in the wrong hands without surrendering our Second Amendment rights or invoking the slippery slope of government confiscation?

Of course it is — and we can.

Obama made an artful and poignant counterargument to the usual objections Tuesday during a news conference at the White House. He reminded those gathered, including many who have lost family members to gun violence, that other people also have rights — the right to peaceable assembly and the right to practice their religion without being shot.

In fairness to the gun lobby, which may not deserve such charity, one can understand reservations about limiting access to guns. What is less easily understood is the refusal of Republicans to take the reins of any given issue and do something constructive rather than invariably waiting to be forced into the ignoble position of “no.”

It is one thing to be in the pocket of the National Rifle Association. It is another to do nothing and then assume a superior posture of purposeful neglect, as though do-nothingness were a policy and smug intransigence a philosophy.

The steps Obama is trying to take won’t save every life, but they seem minimally intrusive and could have significant effects. Summarizing briefly, he’s clarifying existing law and more tightly defining “gun dealer” in order to impose broader background checks; upgrading technology for improved information-sharing and safer guns; increasing relevant workforces to speed up background checks; and closing loopholes that have allowed criminals to buy guns online and elsewhere with a separate set of rules. Or no rules.

Giving the FBI more resources to modernize its system will help. So will giving $500 million to mental- health services aimed at keeping guns away from people determined to hurt themselves or others.

Requiring shippers to report stolen guns will also be helpful — and investing in smart -gun technology could be a game changer. As Obama said, tearing up at the mention of the Sandy Hook shooting that took the lives of 20 first-graders, if we can keep children from opening aspirin bottles, surely we can prevent their pulling the trigger on a gun.

As for expanding background checks, only the criminal or the suicidal object to waiting a day or two before taking home a gun. And if the government doesn’t complete the process within three days, seller and buyer can proceed anyway.

What concerns most people, meanwhile, are those weapons, especially semiautomatics with large magazines, whose only purpose is to kill people. Many argue that no current law could have prevented any of the mass shootings in recent years, but is this sufficient justification for doing nothing when doing something could make a difference we may never know about — the child who didn’t die because new technology prevented him from firing a pistol? The Islamic State-inspired terrorist who didn’t murder holiday revelers because he failed an online background check?

Obama’s actions won’t go unchallenged, needless to say. And much political hay will be threshed, bundled and sold to Republican primary voters in the meantime. But GOP voters should be as skeptical of those ringing the gong of doom as they have been of Obama. In a civilized society, more guns can’t be better than fewer.

 

By: Kathleen Parker, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 5, 2016

January 6, 2016 Posted by | Background Checks, Congressional Republicans, Gun Control, Gun Deaths | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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