In the hours after the Aurora movie-theater massacre last month, the usual suspects -- the NRA beholden and our political castrati -- whined that it was too early to talk about the politics, which meant it was too early to talk about guns and what a civilized society can do about them. What poppycock! That was 16 days ago -- and the nation is still waiting for that national conversation to begin. It's always too soon, or too late, or too futile. What complete and utter baloney! I'm sick of it. A lot of people are.
I'm sick of plugging in my computer as I did this afternoon and reading about yet another mass shooting in America. Tha hate that transpired this morning inside a house of worship in Oak Creek, Wisc., is unthinkable. A depraved coward -- described by authorities as "a domestic terrorist" -- walked into a Sikh temple with a gun and started mowing people down just as prayers were beginning.
Once again, for the second time in little more than two weeks, it's a struggle to come up with words that can express the sorrow and the despair without sounding trite. It's also worth noting that the Sikh community has responded to this senseless act with remarkable faith and an almost transcendent grace. It's so often that we see the worst in humanity bringing out the best in humanity.
But we can do even better. Beyond faith, beyond dignity...we can do something.
The current state of political affairs regarding gun violence -- not just the spate of mass killings, which are much more prevalent in the United States than in other industrialized nations, but also the daily drumbeat of killings in places like Camden and parts of Philadelphia -- reminds me of a situation that took place in New York City in the early 1990s, when I was working as a reporter in City Hall there. The murder rate was at a record high, when the killing of a Utah tourist -- in NYC for the U.S. Open tennis tournament -- in a busy Midtown subway station sent the New York Post into a tizzy about then-Mayor David Dinkins, resulting in the newspaper at the top: DAVE, DO SOMETHING!
There's a lot you can say about that headline -- that it was Rupert Murdoch's tabloid being sensational to sell papers, that a conservative rag targeted a politician who was a black liberal Democrat, that white editors were more outraged by the killing of a Utah tourist than the slow parade of black-on-black murder, or that it was unfair to blame a complex social problem on one man. But as someone who was there, I can tell you that -- fair or not -- that headline was a game-changer for New York City politics, so much so that since the morning that paper hit the streets, the most Democratic big city in America has not again elected a Democratic mayor. Because in politics, nothing is more devastating than to stare a problem in the face -- and do nothing.
President Barack Obama needs to do something. At various points in his political career, the president has supported a number of common-sense measures that would save lives while not stripping Americans of the right to own guns for purposes such as hunting or self-protection -- including closing loopholes regarding sales at gun shows, improved child-safety measures, and, most importantly, restoring the assault-weapon ban that was allowed to expire in 2004. (He supported even more stringent gun-control measures before he became a candidate for president.) Obama needs to start fighting for some of these ideas -- now, not after the election -- and here are three reasons why.
1) Measures that would curb high-powered killing machines or improve our methods of keeping guns away from the mentally disturbed won't end murder, of course, but they should reduce the number of victims, and that is something we must strive for.
2) Taking action -- as opposed to bland utterances about "thoughts and prayers" -- sends the message that as a society we hold these actions to be unacceptable. Doing nothing says the opposite, which is appalling.
3) A successful president is a strong president, and taking positions that would curb gun violence and then refusing to act on them makes Barack Obama look very weak indeed. American doesn't need either a) 52 more months of timidity in the Oval Office or b) the election of Mitt Romney, who has eagerly licked the boot heels of the NRA to get votes and will do its pathetic, anti-social bidding if he becomes the 45th president.
I don't always agree with former Gov. Ed Rendell, but I thought he hit this out of the park last week:
President Obama missed a golden opportunity when, in the wake of the July massacre in Colorado, he failed to press Congress to ban assault weapons and outlaw large magazines for repeating firearms, said former Pa. Gov. Ed Rendell.
Rendell, in a conversation with television’s Charlie Rose broadcast Thursday night, stopped short of saying Obama lacked the courage to stand up for his convictions.
Instead, he condemned politicians unwilling to stick their necks out for principles they ostensibly represent.
“If you run for political office, and you don’t believe some things that are important enough to risk your political career, then save us the trouble. Then don’t run. Don’t run.” Rendell said. “You have to have the guts to do it.”
Sure, just as it may have been unfair for the New York Post to pick on David Dinkins, you could say it's unfair to pick on President Obama. Why not go after the Romneys and the John Boehners and Mitch McConnells who support the NRA... lock, stock, and barrel? Because this journey of 1,000 political miles starts with the first step, and that step is getting people with their hearts in the right place to fight for they claim they believe in. The wrong-hearted can be outmaneuvered and outvoted down the road.
In other words...BARACK, DO SOMETHING!