Obama should treat gun control like LBJ did civil rights

December 14, 2012

“We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years,” President Barack Obama said in a statement responding to the fatal shooting of at least 26 individuals, including 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut Friday morning. This shooting caps a year filled with mass shootings, including five killed in Georgia, seven killed in Oakland, six killed in Seattle, 12 killed in Colorado, seven killed in Wisconsin, six killed in Minneapolis, and three killed in Oregon (a full map is available here). The American people should take the time to mourn the loss of those killed in these senseless acts of violence. But they should also use them as a time for serious introspection into our collective psyche and culture.

Public debate and discussion about the role of guns and gun culture in American society must be a key component of that process. The question that many Americans will be asking is: Why did the shooting occur and how can we prevent another shooting in the future? It is not just that guns are available, it’s also the culture that surrounds them. It’s about the people and the tools, not one or the other. A comprehensive attempt at gun control would better inform Americans about gun safety and the hazards of guns. But how best to do that? I offer one possible solution: the power of federal government intervention through schools.

That’s what worked to change cultural attitudes toward blacks in the second half of the 20th century. In the 1960s, America was undergoing its most contentious transformation of the postwar era. An oft-cited refrain from Southerners then was that culture cannot be legislated. Southerners, in a show of massive resistance, opposed court-mandated school desegregation, arguing that acceptance of blacks would only occur in due time, not through court decisions or federal mandates.

Due to the federalized nature of our political system, Washington had little power to interfere in state business. States often used a states-right argument to obstruct federal legislation and Supreme Court decisions granting equal rights to African-Americans. Yet, the federal government—in conjunction with the action of thousands of unknown individuals in local towns and cities across the country—was able to change the culture of civil rights in the United States during the 1960s and beyond. It did so by using the link between civil rights law and federal funding for schools.

The Johnson administration was able to push local school districts to desegregate only by offering federal funding for education if districts complied with new civil rights law. Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the Department of Health Education and Welfare (HEW) could withhold federal money from school districts that were in violation of the law. HEW’s power to influence school policy and cultural understandings of civil rights was significant. In fact, according to James T. Patterson’s book, Brown v. Board of Education: A Civil Rights Milestone and its Troubling Legacy, federal funding for schools increased from $2.7 billion in 1964-65 to $14.7 billion in 1971-72. The power to withhold these funds was crucial to changing the culture of segregated schooling in our society.

Due in part to the power of HEW to withhold federal funds from local school districts, Southern schools became the most desegregated schools in the country by the mid-1970s. In 1976, 45.1 percent of African-American students in the South attended majority white schools, as Gary Orfield, professor and director of the Civil Rights Project at University of California, Los Angeles, has shown.

If the federal government could use its power to influence school desegregation and, in the process, change cultural understandings of civil rights and equal citizenship during the civil rights era, Obama can use a similar approach to addressing the problem of gun culture in America.

As one of the president’s first acts in his second-term, Obama should send an education bill to Congress stipulating that school districts will not receive full federal funding unless they impose a gun safety and violence-prevention unit in their curriculum. As we’ve seen with the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, states are so cash-strapped that they are willing to change their standards in order to receive more funding. The details of the curriculum can be left up to the states to appease state-rights activists. Most important, the Obama administration would begin to chip away at a culture of violence that is clearly deeply rooted across the country.

If we can link federal funds to mandatory standardized testing then we can certainly do the same for gun-control education. This will not only be a practical step to ensure that an event like the Newtown shooting does not happen again. It’s also a moral one to combat a culture that’s buying an increasing number of guns—guns that can easily have dire effects in the future.

PHOTO: A woman leans on a man as she weeps outside a building set up to counsel family members affected by a shooting nearby at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, December 14, 2012. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson


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The common element that runs through these mass shooting is that we have a number of young madmen running loose in America and that no one is intervening to take them off the streets.

In the current case we have a 20 year old madman who was able to gain access to firearms registered in the name of his mother. Did she buy them for her son or did she buy them because she feared her son.

Why a suburban mother living in a safe uppermiddle class neighborhood would need two pistols and a military style rifle is strange. Let’s find the answer to the where and why of these firearms, to say nothing of the body armor, were in the home first. An unemployed 20 year old might have difficulty putting together the money to buy such an arsenal worth over $2000 even if it was legal for him to buy it and he passed a background check.

Posted by sangell | Report as abusive

The Federal government blackmailing states to bend to it’s will on X (even if X is a perceived noble cause) is one of the primary problems that is steadily eroding freedoms in our nation and slowly turning us into a Communist state. It’s fundamentally unconstitutional as well as flies in the face of the intentions of our nation’s founders.

The ends of achieving a perceived noble cause does not justify the means by which the government becomes corrupted. When this is even proposed it’s either done by those who clandestinely wish to subvert and ultimately destroy that government (as there is almost always a legal way to achieve the goal if it is indeed noble (such as equality amongst the races, but not disarming the populace) without subverting the Constitution) or more often by the naive who are oft promoted into ‘useful idiot’ positions.

The Federal government is able to do this largely because it is able to borrow ad infinitum from the inaccurately named institution known as the Federal Reserve Bank which quite literally is allowed to print money out of thin air. An institution that itself is unconstitutional, and one that does not act nor ever has in the best interests of the people of the United States of America.

That younger generations are increasingly lead to believe they live in a democracy rather than the Republic they actually do live in, as well as fail to bother to try and understand how the government is supposed to work, is a large part of the problem.

That a History PhD candidate who has an article published on such a large platform as Reuters believes in the solution he proposes tells me he doesn’t fundamentally understand or appreciate the history of the nation he lives in; at the very least doesn’t appreciate or understand how, why, and what freedom really is. He’d likely have been a Tory in the days of the Revolution. I’d wager he’ll graduate with great honors though as most Universities in the US have become bastions of Socialist and Communist (I’ll call it what it is) thought. Perhaps though maybe one day he’ll wake up. One can hope.

What the author proposes would be more appropriate in fascist, communist, or monarch lead state, not in the Republic of the United States of America.

I won’t even get into the 2nd amendment, which the author is totally naive to or completely ignores.

Posted by Rourk77 | Report as abusive

The is no defense against a dedicated/insane individual.

Posted by fstocking | Report as abusive

Zero Hedge just posted an article that shows, without a doubt, the sheer idiocy of this piece:

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2012-12-20  /guest-post-gun-grabbers-call-re-educat ion-programs-public-schools

Max Felker-Kantor, unable to make a lucid argument, and unable to see the sheer hypocrisy inherent in his arguments (that only a liberal could possess), boils down his gun-control approach to indoctrinating school-age children into what the government wants them to believe. Sad, so sad.

Posted by Silver_Machine | Report as abusive

How amusing, a Ph.D candidate in history who has no clue whatsoever in how legislation in passed in Congress.

An education bill that would have undefined “gun safety and violence-prevention” authorization segments would never make it out of the House Education & Workforce Committee, not under the chairmanship of Mr. Kline, a former Marine and one tough pro-gun Member. Your bill is DOA, pal. And I say this as a former House staffer who worked with that Committee.

And to put further ridicule on your proposal, what would be the curriculum details as defined by the states? I know the NRA has excellent instructional materials in the safe use of firearms, so the South and West school systems would use their materials. You’d not only inculcate millions of young minds on firearms safety and usage, you’d also remind them of their American heritage.

As for what I think your mindless, naive proposal would do in other parts of the nation, areas more akin to, say, certain parts of western Europe, I’d wager you’d most likely want a curriculum of either one of two things:

a) Naive pacifism and a loathing of firearms, repeated like a bleating sheep…or b) you’d like the curriculum used by socialist East Germany.

For your education, which you desperately need because your USC degree is absolutely a waste of money and time, East German schools regularly used the Young Pioneer program to learn all about the proper usage and field maintenance for the MPiKM 7.62×39…assault rifle. That was their firearms education.

Get a clue, arseloch. And grow up, fer chrissakes. I can’t believe Reuters would waste this kind of space to publish this kind of unthinking nonsense… –PB, NoVa

Posted by Poshboy | Report as abusive

In 2009 there were over 10,800 deaths due to alcohol related accidents. Did we ban cars? So when there’s a gun related death why does the gun ban crowd start crowing about taking our guns? Why do they refuse to go further back up the chain of events?
There’s been an increase in suicide deaths in the last 30 yrs. Between the years of ’05- ’08 11% of Americans aged 12 years and over were taking antidepressant medication. That’s a staggering amount of people on pills that the manufacturer says can cause suicidal/homicidal behavior.
Why is no one looking into this?
American gun ownership is a huge reason why any enemy would think long and hard before invading us. Japanese Admiral Yamamoto said..”there would be a rifle behind every blade of grass.” Gun ownership was provided for us, by our founding fathers as a long lasting shield against foreign enemies and a corrupt government ruling it’s citizens like tyrants. Guns are not the problem, taking them from law abiding citizens is not the answer.

Posted by MarkSC | Report as abusive

There is a big difference between demanding equal rights in our education system and forcing the schools to brainwash our children with your views on guns.

When a gun safety and violence-prevention program is taught by a certified NRA instructor and includes a field trip to a range for a chance to fire a gun for familiarization, then I might not consider it brainwashing. But I am pretty sure that is not what the author or anyone else pushing this issue has in mind.

Posted by tttrrr | Report as abusive

Every single shooting going back to Columbine has involved actors with mental health issues. THAT, not gun control, is the elephant in the living room that the anti-gun advocates refuse to address — because they don’t want to “stigmatize” the mentally ill, or pay for full and effective treatment or make reporting mental health issues mandatory. Until our society is willing to make reporting people with mental health issues mandatory, and is willing to take actions that deprive those people of the freedom to kill others, then suicides and mass shootings will continue.

Posted by Trish94903 | Report as abusive