Obama, guns and media control
Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
There is fresh thinking, of a peculiar sort, in the perennial debate over gun violence in the United States, world leader in civilian ownership of firearms. Censorship of news reporting on the mass shootings that have long been part of American life will help prevent other mass shootings.
So says the National Rifle Association (NRA) in an open letter responding to President Barack Obama’s suggestion that it is time for all sides in the gun debate to get together and find a “sensible, intelligent way” to make the United States a safer place. The president mentioned common sense and a White House spokesman talked of the need to find common ground.
Common sense has not been in abundant supply in decades of on-again, off-again debate on guns and violence. As to finding common ground between the leading gun lobby and advocates of better controls, the NRA’s Executive Vice President, Wayne LaPierre, says his group will “absolutely not” take part in the sort of meeting envisaged by Obama. Such a meeting, he said in a series of media interviews, would be with people opposed to the constitutional right to bear arms.
Talking to people of different views is obviously not a concept the politically powerful gun lobby intends to embrace.
In his open letter, LaPierre listed steps the president could take to prevent mass shootings, such as the January 8 rampage in Tucson that killed six people and wounded a member of Congress, Gabrielle Giffords. “One of these (steps) is to call on the national news media to refrain from giving deranged criminals minute-by-minute coverage of their heinous acts, which only serves to encourage copycat behavior.”
It’s an argument that presupposes that there are plenty of deranged Americans who, like the Tucson shooter, are well-armed, passed the background check required to purchase guns, and are primed to spring into action after they see scenes of carnage on television. It’s also an argument fit for a pre-Internet dictatorship where presidents could tell the media how and what to report.
Until he tip-toed into the subject of gun violence on March 13, with an op-ed article in the Arizona Daily Star, Obama had kept silent on the issue, disappointing many of those who had voted him into office after a campaign in which he promised various gun control measures, including a permanent ban on the sale of assault weapons. The disappointment ran so deep that one of the most prominent gun control groups, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, gave him an “F”, a failing grade, after his first year in office.
The president’s belated entry into the discussion, stirred anew after the Tucson shooting, will not earn him a reputation as an audacious reformer of a system even some gun enthusiasts admit is defective. “No guts on gun reform,” noted a headline over an opinion piece critical of Obama in The Washington Post.
OBAMA MUM ON KEY ISSUES
The president made no mention of assault rifles, no mention of the high-capacity magazines control advocates want banned, no mention of private sales of guns that do not require background checks, no mention of the so-called Tiahrt Amendment which restricts the ability of local law enforcement to access important information to trace guns, no mention of a proposal that would have required around 8,500 gun shops along the border with Mexico to report multiple sales of two or more assault weapons to the same person.
Thousands of weapons from those gun shops end up in Mexico, where more than 36,000 people have died since 2006 in parallel wars drug traffickers wage against each other – for access to the rich U.S. market – and against the government. President Felipe Calderon has repeatedly called for a re-instatement of the ban on assault weapons the administration of George W. Bush allowed to lapse in 2004.
The Mexican government expressed disappointment when the limited measure – it called for reporting, not prohibiting, bulk sales – died in the House of Representatives in February after energetic lobbying by the NRA. For it, and other gun rights group, tighter regulations are part of a long-standing conspiracy to undo the Second Amendment of the Constitution.
Passed in 1789, the amendment says 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.” The sinister forces working for infringement, in the eyes of many gun owners, include New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the coalition he set up in 2006, Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
It has grown from 15 mayors then to 550 now, advocates “common sense legislation for background checks”, and in January dispatched on a tour of 25 U.S. states a truck carrying a billboard with a running tally of Americans killed by guns since the Tucson mass shooting. When the truck left New York, on February 16, that count stood at 1,300. By March 17, it had risen to 2,316. Daily average: 34.
Such figures do not impress the self-appointed guardians of the Second Amendment. Neither does a bigger number: since the September 11, 2001, attack on New York and Washington, more than a quarter million Americans have died by firearms (murder, suicide, accidents).
In online discussions about guns, without fail someone comes up with the observation that more people die in car accidents than by bullet. So, goes the inevitable question, should there be restrictions on car sales?