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“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

“Thoughts And Prayers Are Not Enough”: Obama, Yet Again, Calls For Gun-Control Laws

In what he acknowledged has become a familiar event, the president once again spoke to the nation after a mass shooting.

President Obama was blunt and unequivocal in his response to the shooting Thursday at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon that left 10 dead, “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough.”

“It’s not enough,” he continued. “It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel, and it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted somewhere else in America — next week or a couple of months from now.”

He was explicit: In order to stem this “continuing cause of death for innocent people,” America needed to pass new laws.

The president said that this had become a dispiritingly routine event: The reporting is routine; his remarks, standing at the podium, were routine; the national conversation in the aftermath was routine; and the response from the guns-rights lobby, loudly balking at even the most modest regulations, was routine.

“We have become numb,” he said.

“It’s fair to say that anybody who does this has a sickness in their minds,” Obama said, addressing the specter of mental illness, another typical motif of our national post-shooting conversation. “But we are not the only country on Earth that has people with mental illnesses or want to do harm to other people. We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months.”

He asked that the media report on the numbers of Americans killed by terrorism as compared to the number killed by gun violence. He lamented that the nation could spend over $1 trillion, and devote entire agencies and reams of campaign rhetoric, to the fight against terrorism, but the most common-sense gun-control legislation can’t even make it through a filibuster.

Anticipating critics who would accuse him of politicizing the tragedy, Obama fired back: “This is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic.”

When people die in mining accidents, he said, we make mines safer. When people die in car accidents, we enact seatbelt laws. When roads are unsafe, we fix them. “The notion that gun violence is somehow different, that our freedom, that our Constitution prohibits any modest regulation of how we use a deadly weapon when there are law-abiding gun owners all across the country… It doesn’t make sense.”

States with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths, he noted. Claims by anti-gun-control opponents are “not borne out by the evidence.”

He enjoined voters who felt that gun control could and should be enacted to elect representatives who shared those beliefs and were prepared to act on them.

He reached out to law-abiding gun owners, whom he claimed polls showed supported background checks and closing the so-called gun show loophole, and asked them “to think about whether your views are being properly represented by the organization that suggests it’s speaking for you.”

He invoked the names of cities, towns, and schools marked by massacres, which have become bywords for gun violence: Columbine, Blacksburg, Aurora, Newtown, Tucson, Charleston.

And now Roseburg.

 

By: Sam Reisman, The National Memo, October 1, 2015

October 2, 2015 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings, Roseburg Oregon | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“An Inept Congress”: Two Years After Aurora, Where’s The Gun Reform?

It’s been two years since the tragic Aurora, Colorado theater shooting, which killed 12 people and injured 70. But although many politicians, including President Obama, vowed that the nation would finally do something to strengthen gun regulations, Congress still hasn’t passed a single gun control law since. In fact, Congress hasn’t passed any major gun reform since 1994’s Assault Weapons Ban, which expired 10 years ago.

That doesn’t mean that nothing has changed, however. Months later, after the Newtown elementary school shooting in December 2012, the president set up a task force to address the issue. He promised to send Congress proposals for strengthening gun control, and he urged lawmakers to ban assault weapons, pass a universal background check law, and limit high-capacity ammunition clips.

He then signed 23 executive orders into law in January 2013. These included reducing barriers to background checks, researching the causes of gun violence, and improving mental health services. As Forbes explained at the time, “It does not appear that any of the executive orders would have any impact on the guns people currently own – or would like to purchase – and that all proposals regarding limiting the availability of assault weapons or large ammunition magazines will be proposed for congressional action.”

In other words, Congress still needed to act. In April 2013, the Senate voted to expand the background check system, a reform that 90 percent of Americans supported. But the amendment failed to to gain the 60 votes it needed to advance, due to pressure from the National Rifle Association and the lack of support from some red-state Democrats such as North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp.

President Obama called the vote “a shameful day in Washington.”

Obama took two more executive actions in August 2013. He banned military weapons that the United States had sold or given to allies from being imported back into the country. These weapons, however, are rarely used at crime scenes.

The president also attempted to close a loophole that allows felons and anyone else who can’t legally purchase a gun to register firearms to a corporation. The new rule requires anyone associated with that corporation to go through a background check. But that rule only applies to guns regulated under the National Firearms Act, which only regulates very deadly weapons such as machine guns.

Meanwhile, Congress still hasn’t passed any major gun legislation. The only step in the right direction was in May 2014, when the House passed an amendment that would increase funding for the country’s background check system.

In June, 163 House Democrats wrote an open letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), asking him to allow a vote on legislation to address gun violence. If he doesn’t allow a vote, it could resurface as a major issue in the midterms.

Even though there hasn’t been substantive national action to reduce gun violence, some states have taken gun control into their own hands.

Colorado’s state legislature passed laws that required universal background checks and limited gun magazines to 15 rounds of ammunition. Two Democratic state senators were recalled shortly thereafter, in an effort that was heavily supported by the NRA.

New York also passed new gun control and mental health laws. Other states have improved their background check systems, limited magazine capacity, and worked to prevent the mentally ill from accessing guns.

According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 64 laws have strengthened state gun regulations since the Newtown shootings, and 70 laws have weakened them.

 

By: Rachel Witkin, The National Memo, July 18, 2014

July 19, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Gun Control, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“New Study Makes The Case For Gun Control”: The Strongest Evidence We Have That Background Checks Really Matter

During last year’s battle over gun control, the pro-gun side did more than passionately invoke the Second Amendment: They claimed that gun control doesn’t work. Sometimes even the reformers, surveying the limited impact of legislation from the 1990s, feared the same. But a new study on universal background checks makes the strongest case yet that the policy saves lives. “This is probably the strongest evidence we have that background checks really matter,” said Philip Cook, a gun expert at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

The study, from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, found the murder rate in Missouri jumped 16 percent—an additional 55 to 63 murders a year—after the repeal in 2007 of a state law that required anyone purchasing a handgun to obtain a permit showing they had passed a background check. (Though federal law mandates background checks by licensed dealers, private dealers don’t have to perform them in all but 14 states.) “This study provides compelling confirmation that weaknesses in firearm laws lead to deaths from gun violence,” said Daniel Webster, the study’s lead author, in a statement.

Since this is only a single study, “it’s just suggestive,” warned David Hemenway of Harvard’s School of Public Health. It is “another piece of evidence that is consistent with the bulk of the literature, which shows where there are fewer guns, there are fewer problems… But you want eight more studies that say background checks really matter.”

And the study isn’t perfect: Missouri also enacted a “stand your ground” law in 2007, creating some challenges in disentangling the effects. But Cook said he is confident that background checks played a major role because the authors tracked an increase in guns that went directly from dealers to criminals—exactly the scenario background checks are designed to prevent. The study also notes an uptick in guns “purchased in Missouri that were subsequently recovered by police in border states that retained their [permit-to-purchase] laws.”

The findings at least begin to fill a gap in the research that last year’s debate exposed. Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Michael Bloomberg’s gun control group, found that the shortage of data stems from a shortage of funding—especially federal funding. In 1996, the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby pushed Congress to eliminate the $2.6 million appropriation that underwrote the Center for Disease Control’s research on firearm injuries. President Barack Obama ended the funding freeze last year, and Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Research Program at the University of California, Davis, told NBC that private funding for gun research has also spiked with the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and other high-profile acts of violence.

So why hasn’t the new finding gotten much attention? “I don’t mean to diminish the value of the study, but I don’t think it could have made a difference last year, and I don’t think it will now,” said Tom Diaz, a former policy analyst at the Violence Policy Center. He called the finding “very clear,” but added: “The debate is just unhinged from the facts.”

As the study notes, 89 percent of Americans, and 84 percent of gun owners, supported universal background checks in 2013, before this study bolstered the argument for them. But that’s just one more reason for Congress to pick up the issue again—that, and a new analysis last week which found there have been 44 school shootings since the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

 

By: Nora Caplan-Bricker, The New Republic, February 19, 2014

February 22, 2014 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Control | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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