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“A President Cries, And The NRA Trembles”: A President Taking On The Gun Lobby That Has Held Our Country Hostage

Two of my closest friends are also my steadfast movie companions. It is our habit, whenever possible, to sit in the same row of our favorite theater.

We’ve been doing this for years, but during our most recent excursion, one of them quietly asked during the previews, “When we sit here, do you ever think a man with a gun–.”

Her wife and I didn’t even let her finish her sentence as we started to nod.

“That we would be the first to be shot?” one of us asked.

“That we would die?” the other asked.

Oh, yeah, we all agreed. We think about that.

This is an absurd mental exercise on our part. As Plain Dealer Editor George Rodrigue III wrote in a recent column in my hometown of Cleveland, “If you lived in America last year you were less likely to be shot by an Islamic terrorist than by a toddler.” This is just as true about the likelihood of being gunned down by a homegrown terrorist shooting up a movie theater.

We know this, my friends and I, but there we were anyway, imagining the rain of bullets. I am embarrassed to admit to this, in part because such fear is so irrational but also because it suggests the right-wing fearmongering has had its way with me, a lifelong liberal. Only for a moment, mind you, but it’s the sort of lapse in rational thinking that can eat away at you if you aren’t vigilant. Before you know it, you’re parroting talking points from the National Rifle Association, which acts more like a mob syndicate than it does a lobbying organization.

Right after New Year’s, President Barack Obama signed 23 executive orders designed to address gun violence, including tightening loopholes on who can sell guns and who is allowed to buy them. As The New York Times duly noted, these are guidelines, not binding regulations, and the president will face “legal, political and logistical hurdles that are likely to blunt the effect of the plan he laid out.”

That’s a gentler way of saying the gun zealots and the Republicans who pander to them are acting as if the devil just galloped into town to lasso the whole bunch of them and drag them back to hell. Not a wholly unpleasant scenario to imagine, but it has nothing to do with the president’s plan.

Republican right-wing propagandist Ted Cruz said: “We don’t beat the bad guys by taking away our guns. We beat the bad guys by using our guns.”

If he weren’t serious, he’d be hilarious. It’s so easy to imagine all 5 feet 8 inches of him standing there in the dirt with spurs jingling as his hands hover over the Colts in the gun belt slung around his hip-huggers.

I can’t even.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said that “rather than focus on criminals and terrorists, (President Obama) goes after the most law-abiding of citizens. His words and actions amount to a form of intimidation that undermines liberty.”

I am so tired of these men thinking we’re this stupid. Every credible poll shows that the overwhelming majority of Americans want gun reform. In October, for example, a CBS News/New York Times poll found that 92 percent of Americans favor background checks for all gun buyers. That included 87 percent of Republicans who were polled.

The NRA, preferring to channel the voices in its collective head, claimed otherwise this week. NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker, in a statement to Fox News: “President Obama failed to pass his anti-gun agenda (through) Congress because the majority of Americans oppose more gun-control. Now he is doing what he always does when he doesn’t get his way, which is defy the will of the people and issue an executive order.”

Hear that? That’s fear talking. For the first time in a long time, the NRA hears the American people pounding on a door it doesn’t want to open. So of course, it declined to participate in the president’s town hall on guns with CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

At his White House news conference Tuesday, the president began to cry when he started talking about the victims of school shootings.

“Our right to peaceful assembly, that right was robbed from moviegoers in Aurora and Lafayette,” he said. “Our unalienable right to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, those rights were stripped from college kids in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara and from high schoolers at Columbine and from first-graders in Newtown — first-graders — and from every family who never imagined that their loved one would be taken from our lives by a bullet from a gun. Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad.”

Many right-wing pundits and lollygaggers on social media mocked the president for his tears. This disrespect outraged a lot of President Obama’s supporters, but it made me feel optimistic about gun reform for the first time in years.

Who mocks a man for showing the same hollowed-out grief most of us feel when we think of those babies being gunned down? Who makes fun of a president standing tall with the majority of his citizens?

Scared people, that’s who. The ones who are trembling in their boots because, finally, we have a president willing to take on the gun lobby that has held our country hostage for far too long.

 

By: Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist; The National Memo, January 7, 2016

January 8, 2016 Posted by | Domestic Terrorism, Fearmongering, Gun Lobby, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , , , | 1 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

“A Different Kind of Courage”: Soul Piercing Hard, Quiet Sacred Moments

Much has been written lately by people who think that President Obama has done an inadequate job of calming the nation’s fears. Today he takes on a very different task as the Consoler-in-Chief. On his way to the family’s Christmas vacation in Hawaii, the President will stop in San Bernardino to spend some private time with the victims and families of the shootings that took place there earlier this month.

I don’t expect that we’ll hear much about these meetings. But they’ll probably be much like the ones he held with the families of the shooting that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School three years ago. If you’ve never read Joshua Dubois’ account of that day, here is a portion of it:

The president took a deep breath and steeled himself, and went into the first classroom. And what happened next I’ll never forget.

Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander in chief. He’d say, “Tell me about your son. . . . Tell me about your daughter,” and then hold pictures of the lost beloved as their parents described favorite foods, television shows, and the sound of their laughter. For the younger siblings of those who had passed away—many of them two, three, or four years old, too young to understand it all—the president would grab them and toss them, laughing, up into the air, and then hand them a box of White House M&M’s, which were always kept close at hand. In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break.

And then the entire scene would repeat—for hours. Over and over and over again, through well over a hundred relatives of the fallen, each one equally broken, wrecked by the loss…

And the funny thing is—President Obama has never spoken about these meetings. Yes, he addressed the shooting in Newtown and gun violence in general in a subsequent speech, but he did not speak of those private gatherings. In fact, he was nearly silent on Air Force One as we rode back to Washington, and has said very little about his time with these families since. It must have been one of the defining moments of his presidency, quiet hours in solemn classrooms, extending as much healing as was in his power to extend. But he kept it to himself—never seeking to teach a lesson based on those mournful conversations, or opening them up to public view.

Those were quiet sacred moments – much as the ones today will be.

There is a twisted way in which our culture often associates courage with the kind of chest-thumping we saw on the Republican debate stage Tuesday night. But that dismisses the kind that it takes to look into the eyes of a mother/father/son/daughter/husband/wife who has lost a loved one to senseless violence and embrace their grief. There is a reason why most of us avoid being put in a situation like that whenever possible. It’s soul-piercing hard. So today I want to take a moment to think about what it says about President Obama that he would chose to go there. Beyond what he’s actually done to keep us safe, that’s at least as important as what he says to allay our fears.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 18, 2015

December 19, 2015 Posted by | Mass Shootings, President Obama, San Bernardino | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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