"Maybe it's time the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they're going to do about it, because this is obviously a problem across the country."
Throughout his 2008 presidential campaign, President Obama called for and promised comprehensive gun control legislation. Since his election, however, he has avoided the topic of gun control altogether by simply ignoring the issue. President Obama has been eerily silent on the issue of gun control during his presidency. Indeed, there have been some four major mass shootings during his term: Binghamton, N.Y. (2009); Fort Hood, Texas (2009); Tucson, Ariz. (2011) and now Aurora, Colo. Nor has he even mentioned gun control in any of his State of the Union addresses. Perhaps there is something in his record that explains his reticence to address this matter.
The British newspaper, The Guardian, has detailed both Obama's and Romney's record on gun control. With respect to President Obama only, I will summarize and analyze their findings here.
1997-2004: As an Illinois state senator, Obama supported a ban on all automatic and semi-automatic weapons. He proposed stronger limits on all firearms, and even proposed limiting handguns purchases to one per month.
2005: As the junior senator from Illinois, Obama voted against shielding gun manufacturers and sellers from legal liability if their guns were misused by their customers. That bill became law under President George W. Bush's signature.
2008: During the presidential campaign, Obama vigorously supported reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons. (The ban had begun under Clinton and expired under Bush). Candidate Obama also supported background checks at gun shows.
It was at this point that he appeared as a significant blip on the National Rifle Association's radar screen. And although the NRA has never supported Obama, it was during this period that he was labeled an anti-gun fanatic, drawing the full ire of the NRA, which now became his sworn enemy. The NRA has conducted ever-mounting, relentless attacks against him ever since.
April, 2008: In an apparently unguarded moment at a fund raiser, Candidate Obama was overheard describing (and dismissing) “middle America” as filled with people besotted in a gun culture. He went further, though, stating that these people "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them." The “outrage” over these remarks from the right was immediate, fierce – and false. Obama was charged with, among other things, “elitism” and with being “out of touch” with “real Americans.”
September, 2008: The uproar over his “guns and god” statement was continually fueled by right wing media, and reached a fever pitch. The candidate sought to tamp down the passions: "I believe in people's lawful right to bear arms. ... There are some common-sense gun safety laws that I believe in. But I am not going to take your guns away."
November, 2008: Didn't work. Gun and ammunition sales skyrocketed immediately after Obama's electoral victory. “Middle America,” again via its right wing media, was seized with a fear that Obama's victory meant the end of personal gun ownership in America.
2009: Obama signed into law measures that allowed people to carry concealed weapons in national parks and wildlife refuges. He also authorized concealed weapons in checked luggage on Amtrak trains.
2010: The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence rebuked Obama with a grade of "F" for reneging on his campaign promises of 2008 relative to gun control.
2011: In his only public statement about guns since his election, Obama made a tepid, noncommittal statement regarding the shooting of Rep.and the killing of six others: That terrible event, he said, should lead to "a new discussion of how we can keep America safe for all our people." He called for but did not propose methods or means of taking "sound and effective steps" to disarm criminals. Nor did he address enhancing background checks, or any other measures to control guns. He has not directly addressed the gun control issue since.
March, 2012: Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black teenager, was shot and killed by a “white Hispanic,” named George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla. President Obama declared the killing to be "a tragedy,” and asked all Americans to do some “soul-searching.” He then called upon the country to "examine the laws" in an effort to understand this situation. But, typically, he has not made any concrete proposals or instituted any policy changes as to the control of guns.
While it is true that most gun legislation is under the purview of state law, federal responses and initiatives would set a standard for states to follow. The “stand-your-ground” law in Florida and elsewhere is a good place to start. That is the law invoked by Zimmerman as providing a shield of self-defense for his killing of Martin. The Justice Department has participated in the investigation of that case, but neither Justice nor the president have taken a definitive stand as to the law itself.
July 20, 2012: Obama issued the standard platitudes and bromides in the immediate wake of the Aurora, Colo., theater massacre: "If there's anything to take away from this tragedy it's the reminder that life is very fragile, our time here is limited and it is precious," he said solemnly, while leading the nation in a “moment of silence” for the victims.
His press secretary, Jay Carney, declined to comment about possible new measures relative to gun control following that shooting. He would not go beyond repeating Obama's lukewarm stance supporting "common-sense measures that protect Second Amendment rights of Americans, while ensuring that those who should not have guns under existing law do not get them.”
Conclusion: So what does this record reveal? Not very much beyond the fact that Obama is a consummate politician. He seems to say and promise one thing when the election is on the line; but after winning, he retreats into a “make no waves” posture, a “go-along-to-get-along” stance.
In terms of the future? Well, should he win re-election, it will, of course, be his last election to win. At that time, instead of looking toward the next election, he will concentrate on burnishing his “legacy,” and is therefore unlikely to step on any toes then either.
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