Fueled by his belief that “we don’t benefit from ignorance,” President Obama on Wednesday unveiled a plan for addressing gun violence that is properly centered on enlightenment. A review of his 23 action items reveals such phrases as “make relevant data available … incentives for states to share information … report analyzing information … research the causes and prevention,” all of which guide this painful national dialogue where it belongs. That is, away from extremist rhetoric, and dedicated instead to “knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.”The president’s plan also included specifics, meaningful steps such as urging limits on the size of ammunition clips, full background checks and tougher federal laws governing firearms trafficking. Clearly, the gun violence epidemic is so complex as to require multiple responses, none of which can solve the problem but, together, can reduce the number of tragedies. The president is correct to urge all Americans to tell elected officials: “We’ve suffered too much pain and care too much about our children to allow this to continue.”
And he is reasonable to apply pressure on Congress to participate in the solution. That, though, is where this road to enlightenment gets bumpy. It requires Congress to break the shackles of divisiveness. Sadly, Americans have seen little indication that this is possible.
Notice how the president called on Congress — rather than using an executive order — to restore the assault weapons ban that was in effect for 10 years. To do that will necessitate more than just rare accord in Congress. It also will require a sharper definition of “assault weapons.” A recent washingtonpost.com blog about fully automatic and semiautomatic weapons is instructive: “Congress didn’t want to ban all semiautomatic weapons — that would ban most guns, period. So, in crafting the 1994 ban, lawmakers mainly focused on 18 specific firearms, as well as certain military-type features on guns. Complicated flow charts laid it all out.” But as the blog also noted, “its complexity made it easy to evade.” So taking action on this matter would be difficult even for a harmonious Congress. We doubt if this Congress is capable.
Meanwhile, other common-sense steps are available, such as enhanced databases, stronger background checks, and intensified efforts by mental health researchers and mental-health service providers.
How do ordinary Americans feel? This week’s CNN/Time Magazine poll showed 55 percent of respondents favoring stricter gun control laws, with 37 percent saying they strongly support such action. President Obama offered insight into why Americans feel this way: “The right to worship freely and safely, that right was denied to Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The right to assemble peaceably, that right was denied shoppers in Clackamas, Oregon, and moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado.”
Gun violence will never be eradicated, but the road toward recovery is real, and productive steps have been taken. This duty is not the province of presidents or Congressmen. It is owned by all of us.