All In The Timing

In an interesting story on CNN recently, we are told about President Obama’s preparations for issuing an executive order that would address the issue of gun control:

Washington (CNN)As his administration prepares an executive order tightening access to guns, President Barack Obama met Wednesday with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a proponent of new gun laws who has become the chief enemy of the National Rifle Association.

Obama has met with a series of gun control advocates in recent weeks as his aides complete work on a potential order expected to expand background checks on gun sales by closing the so-called “gun show loophole.”

A timeline on the order — which has been tangled in legal and administrative questions — is still unknown. The President met with former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was gravely wounded during a 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, on December 4 to discuss gun control.

But even as he works to tighten access to firearms, a new survey shows dwindling support for an outright ban on assault weapons, which both Obama and Bloomberg have advocated as a means to prevent gun deaths.

Obama is meeting with Bloomberg because New York has fairly tough gun control laws, though, apparently, they have not yet been overly successful. In any event, the comment at the end of the above quote is of most interest. To be sure, there is the question of whether an executive order at this time that is not supported by a Republican Congress could have any effect whatever. But in addition to that issue, there is the question of timing.

Since the recent mass killings in San Bernardino there has been minor hysteria in this country about possible terrorist attacks here at home, hysteria encouraged by some of the loudest and most unconscionable of the Republican candidates for presidential office. The mood has shifted from the 90% of the people who supported some sort of gun controls after Sandy Hook to considerably less at this time. It would appear that many of those who would have supported Obama then are now having second thoughts. Perhaps they think that by buying an automatic weapon themselves they will be safer from terrorism.

Apparently they have not heard about probabilities. The likelihood of another attack like the one in California is extremely low and the likelihood that a family of four, say, would be safer by providing themselves with automatic weapons is even lower: the likelihood that there would be an accident with that weapon and that someone in the family might be shot dead is greater than the probability that there would be any danger from terrorists in the first place. This is not to say that there won’t be any more mass killings. In this country with hysteria the order of the day — encouraged by political candidates like the Trumpet and his ilk — there is every reason to believe there will be more such attacks. My point is that the purchase of weapons will not reduce that likelihood or make us any safer.

But more to the point, Obama missed the boat. He should have gone before the TV cameras with his considerable rhetorical skills and obvious charisma and asked the citizens of this country to flood their Congressmen with requests for stronger gun laws immediately after Sandy Hook — when there was such strong support for such a move. To be sure, with the NRA and its millions of dollars hanging about in the background in Washington any sort of gun laws are extremely unlikely. But at that time, the chances would have been much better than they are now with the thought of terrorism clouding the judgment of so many of our citizens. It’s really a question of timing, isn’t it?

The Speechless President

Like so many others, I had high hopes for our current President. After his predecessor, he seemed like such a breath of fresh air. But it is beginning to appear as though that’s all he is: “a breath of air.” Except for his annual appearance on ESPN picking the winners in the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournament (seriously?) one hardly knows he’s around. However, he does have considerable speech-making abilities and is able to hold the attention of an audience and make his points in a most persuasive way, so this gives rise to a question I have had for some time.

Given the unwillingness of this Congress — especially the House of Representatives — to cooperate in any way with the sitting President (for whatever reasons), why doesn’t the President use his powers of persuasion and the ready availability of the TV networks to make his case to the American people to put pressure on a recalcitrant Congress? Recall the ability of Ronald Reagan in this regard (old “Teflon Ron”): he was forever going on TV and pleading with the American public to have them write or call their representatives to get things done. And it worked: it boosted his popularity and got the people involved. In fact, we can go back to FDR’s use of the radio to get the public behind him as Churchill was able to do in England. These men knew the power of their position combined with the power of the airwaves and they used them to their advantage.

There was one time, especially, when Obama could have made use of his considerable speech-making abilities and the magic of television to get the American public involved in one of his pet causes. I refer of course to gun control and wonder why, after Sandy Hook when the American public was outraged, the President didn’t go on TV and urge folks to get behind his efforts to push some sort of gun-control legislation through a refractory Congress backed by the considerable power of the NRA. Public polls showed that the American public was overwhelmingly behind some sort of gun controls — at the very least some sort of waiting period, including checks on those who would purchase guns. But it didn’t happen, and despite a good deal of public posturing and a smattering of small, ineffective, steps on the President’s part, nothing happened at the federal level. The issue is not whether or not gun controls could help prevent the madness that seems to have this country in its grips. The issue is why the President didn’t take advantage of the support he obviously had in the American public and “take on” the Congress and the NRA. After all, he had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

In any event, the President complains about the lack of cooperation from this Congress and is out beating the campaign trails to raise money to get more sympathetic members of Congress during the mid-term elections to help him push through some of his favorite programs during his final years in office. But it’s not all about sympathetic members of Congress. It’s also about getting the apathetic American public more involved in the political process and the sitting President could play a vital role if (s)he chose to do so. There is considerable power out there sitting glued to television sets, and that power could have been tapped into a number of times during this man’s presidency. But it has not. One wonders if that power might even have been enough to thwart the growing influence of the monied interests who seem determined to buy this government and who silently line the pockets of politicians they know will surely answer the call when the time comes to push their narrow, all-for-profit agendas.

In the game that is power politics, Barack Obama has shown himself to be inept. Given his status and his opportunities together with the precedent for “going public” he has ignored one rather obvious avenue for courting political success: the sleeping giant that is the American public that might have been aroused by Obama’s considerable powers of persuasion, but who now sleeps on undisturbed and unconcerned.

Gun Control

In light of the ongoing discussion about gun control, and the likelihood that this Congress will almost certainly not come up with tougher gun laws which so many people clearly want, we might reflect on the recent shooting death of a deputy’s wife by a four-year old child who discharged the officer’s gun by mistake, as reported by USA Today. It raises serious questions about the veracity of the NRA mantra  “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”  But whether we agree with the NRA or not, it seems unlikely that the fourteen people stabbed in a Houston (TX) Junior College yesterday would still be alive if they had been shot by an automatic weapon like the one used in Sandy Hook. Be that as it may, those who are fighting for tougher gun restrictions are fighting with one hand (both?) tied behind their backs: the NRA doesn’t seem to be the least bit worried, as a recent Yahoo News story reveals:

Most Americans support tougher gun control measures. Too bad the gun lobby has so many politicians in its pocket

There’s no denying it: The National Rifle Association has won — again. Even though more than 3,000 Americans have died via gun violence since 20 children and 6 adults were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary in December, the NRA has somehow managed to triumph. The victims’ families and gun control advocates have lost. Forget an assault weapons ban — or any other serious gun regulation. It’s not happening.

The apparent failure of this Congress to make any serious inroads against the powerful NRA lobby is disturbing on both of two grounds, moral and historical. On moral grounds it is simply wrong to continue to make available to ordinary citizens automatic weapons that are designed to kill other human beings. On historical grounds, the issue is also quite clear. We need to recall the exact wording of the second amendment to our Constitution which  states that “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” I have blogged about this before, but we need to bear in mind that this is what logicians call a “conditional” sentence. It was written very carefully by James Madison who, along with Thomas Jefferson, worried more about a standing army then they did about the right to bear arms. In fact, the statement says that in order to assure ourselves of the continued readiness of a militia that will render unnecessary a standing army, we must guarantee every citizen the right to bear arms. The issue of a standing army was paramount.

Long after the Constitution was ratified and while the young nation was struggling with the prospect of a return to monarchy under the Presidency of John Adams, with the urging of Alexander Hamilton, Jefferson wrote the following letter expressing in no uncertain terms just what his concerns were:

“I am for relying on our militia solely, till actual invasion, and for such naval force only as may protect our coasts and harbors from such depredations as we have experienced; and not for a standing army in time of peace, which may overawe the public sentiment; nor for a navy, which by its own expenses and the eternal wars in which it will implicate us, will grind us with public burdens, and sink us under them.”

It is because those men feared a standing army (and navy) making it necessary for every citizen to be ready to defend the nation if it ever again came under attack that they wrote the second amendment to the Constitution. Those who have no problems with a four-year old child accidentally shooting a woman dead in her own home, or a maniac walking into a school and shooting 20 young children, or walking into a movie theater and shooting anyone who moved, should ponder the rationale behind the amendment they hold aloft and hide fearfully behind: that amendment was not designed to protect our alleged right to carry automatic weapons and shoot our fellow citizens. It was designed to guarantee that there would never be a standing army.

The history lesson is quite clear, as are the moral grounds for disallowing weapons that are designed only to kill other humans. But the politicians who should be listening have their hands in the pockets of the gun lobby and their heads up their butts, which, I suppose, makes it hard for them to hear much of anything.