Outcome uncertain as battle over new gun laws continues

This weekend a group of art lovers and gun control activists gathered in the First Congregational United Church of Christ in the middle of Washington, DC for an exhibition called:

“The Newtown Project: ART TARGETS GUNS”.Art & Guns
The exhibition with 33 artists has been assembled by veteran journalist Charles Krause Reporting Fine Arts Gallery in memory of the murdered 26 students and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December last year.
Outside the church, the Canadian artist Viktor Mitic’s school bus stood, full of bullet holes. The bus, called the “Incident,” was created by Mitic before the tragedy in Newtown in memory of gang violence in his hometown Toronto, but the bus has become a sad symbol of what has happened and could happen again in America’s schools.
Congress returns this week to Washington to continue negotiations on new gun laws that President Obama has demanded and for which he has energetically pleaded in speeches  around the country. And he seems to have support among the American public: 90 per cent support background on people who want to buy guns; 59 percent want ban on military-style automatic weapons (assault weapons) and a majority support other laws on guns and ammunition.
Yet… a victory in Congress is far from certain. The lobby group the National Rifle Association (NRA) has, at least so far, succeeded in preventing any new gun laws.
A depressing article in this weekend’s Washington Post described NRA’s hitherto successful lobbying, both in Congress in Washington and in the state legislatures. It is now clear that there will be no nationwide ban on assault weapons — the votes are just not there. But also other, less controversial proposals, have so far been stopped by NRA and its supporters, who all argue that such laws would violate Americans’ individual freedoms and right to bear arms according to the Second Amendment in the Constitution.
But, the struggle after Newtown has not been entirely without success for Obama and those who urge stricter gun laws. The success has mainly come in states where the Democrats are in control, like in New York State, where Governor Andrew Cuomo, but, especially, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have pushed hard for stricter gun control. Also here in Maryland, where I live, Governor Martin O’Malley has been successful pushing through a number of new gun laws.
Said O’Malley:
          “There is a sickness in this country and that sickness is gun violence.”…”These tragedies must end, and to end them we must change.”
And in Connecticut, new gun laws passed last week, but the final victory did not come easily,  according to the New York Times, in spite of Newtown and in spite of a Democratic governor and Democratic majorities in the state Senate and House of Representatives. NRA’s resistance was fierce.
But perhaps NRA’s biggest defeat, and its opponents’ biggest victory, came recently in Colorado, where one in three households own guns but where also tragedies such as in Aurora and Columbine have taken place. In the end, Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper pushed through several new laws.
          “If you can do it here (in Colorado), you can do it any place,” was one of the comments afterwards.

Obama on guns — and his State of the Union finally took off

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union last night was not, I am afraid, a speech to be long remembered.  It was good, but ordinary, although at the same time “extraordinarily ambitious,” as Ezra Klein writes on his Wonkblog:

“Imagine, for a moment, that President Obama managed to pass every policy he proposed tonight. Within a couple of years, every four-year-old would have access to preschool. The federal minimum wage would be at $9 — higher than it’s been, after adjusting for inflation, since 1981. There’d be a cap-and-trade program limiting our carbon emissions and a vast infrastructure investment to upgrade our roads and bridges. Taxes would be higher, guns would be harder to come by, and undocumented immigrants would have a path to citizenship. America would be a noticeably different country.”

That is unlikely to happen, as Los Angeles Times’ Doyle McManus writes, but if Obama meets his most significant and realistic goals – “immigration reform, even modest steps on gun control, an end to the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan, a free-trade agreement with Europe and, oh yes, implementation of Obamacare — and manages to keep the economy growing, even if slowly, that’s not a bad list. Plenty of two-term presidents have done worse.”

What Obama mentioned in his speech is clearly popular with the American public, according to Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky but “the Republicans just sat there like statues ignoring” them. They are such crybabies every day about what Obama allegedly does to try to make them look bad. They’re doing plenty well at that themselves.”

“Long gone,” writes The New Yorker’s John Cassidy on his blog Rational Irrationality “is the era when he (Obama) treated Republicans as reasonable men and women with whom he could do business. Nowadays, he is in permanent campaign mode. With the ongoing dispute over taxes and spending still far from decided, he is intent on rallying his supporters whilst depicting his opponents as crazed ideologues and craven defenders of the privileges enjoyed by the ultra-rich. “

Well, ok. Still, in my view Obama’s fifth State of the Union never really took off until the end and when the subject was guns and gun control. “They deserve a vote,” Obama repeated time and again:

“Gabby Giffords deserves a vote; the families of Newtown deserve a vote; the families of Aurora deserve a vote; the families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.”

“Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country.  Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight.  But we were never sent here to be perfect.”

And the President returned to his them from the Inauguration about inclusiveness, about “us” and “we.”

”The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem.  They don’t expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue.  But they do expect us to put the nation’s interests before party.  They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can.  For they know that America moves forward only when we do so together; and that the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.”

Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker thinks that Obama’s urgent message that “they deserve a vote” may come to serve “as the rallying cry for 2013,”  and so “if last night was any indication, the two years to come will be far more confrontational. “

So, no political peace is to be expected in Washington.  But Obama, a much different and more self-confident President than in his first term,  got to say his peace, and he made his troops happy.

Enough, Mr. President!

Yes, our hearts are broken, as President Obama said the other day about the senseless mass murder of 28 people in Newtown, Connecticut.

The sentiments of his emotional statement were surely shared by many, many, across the nation. But, for many, including me, his words were not enough. We wanted to hear something more  — indignation, anger, impatience, in addition to the sorrow, over what America’s gun culture is doing to this country, that too many people have died for no reason at all, and that something must be done about it – finally, now!

But we did not hear this from the President, who gave no indication that he is now prepared to break his four-year-long silence on guns and gun control — during his entire first term. His one sentence that “we are going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics,” was far too general and vague for many, like New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, maybe the nation’s leading gun control proponent:

“We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership. Not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today.”

David Remnick, The New Yorker’s editor:

“Obama told the nation that he reacted to the shootings in Newtown “as a parent,” and that is understandable, but what we need most is for him to act as a President, liberated at last from the constraints of elections and their dirty compromises—a President who dares to change the national debate and the legislative agenda on guns.“

In the days since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the voices of “enough” are heard more and more. Mass shootings and mass killings are now part of everyday life in America. The magazine Mother Jones reports that there have been 62 such mass murders in the last 30 years. We know them: Columbine, Oak Creek, Aurora, Tucson, Blacksburg, and now Newtown. This year, alone, almost one hundred people have died in this madness.

Still, little has happened. Not even the near death of Congress woman Gabby Giffords resulted in any political action. On the contrary, it easier than ever to buy a gun, including assault weapons, as the ban between 1994 and 2004 on those weapons was lifted in 2004. And you can now carry concealed weapons in schools and bars, on trains and in the National Parks.

Could the 28 deaths in Newtown, Connecticut be a tipping point? It remains to be seen, if Sandy Hook can “break the usual cycle of universal shock fading into political reality,” reported  the AP.

Sadly, more and more people see the battle for increased gun control as unwinnable. The gun lobby seems just too strong, and the American people do not seem support more gun control. According to Gallup, fewer Americans now favor stricter gun laws, from 78 percent in 1990, to 44 percent in 2010.

Still, the deaths at Sandy Hook of 20 school children between six and seven years old seem to have struck a chord among Americans. And how could it not? So if not now, when? Enough.

“Shots that still ring out”

Today, it’s 30 years since Ronald Reagan was shot right here in the middle of Washington. He was badly injured but survived, was re-elected, and remained president for eight years.

But another man, who was also shot at the same time. Reagan’s press spokesman Jim Brady, was injured so badly that he that he could never work again. But he and his wife Sarah became leading advocates and spokespeople for gun control in America.

And they were successful. After many years of struggle, Congress passed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, in spite of the vehement opposition from the National Rifle Association.

I was reminded of all this in Sarah Brady’s op-ed in the Washington Post today, and about the time in the late 1980s, when I met Jim and Sarah for an interview.  We met in their home just outside Washington. Brady, paralyzed and with speech difficulties, showed off his famous fighting spirit and humor. You have to play with the cards you are dealt and I try to do the best I can, he said.

Today, Brady is still in a wheelchair. In America, Columbine happened, and then Tucson. New  tragedies. But on gun control, nothing has really happened.

”Some might find it hard to believe that anything will ever change when it comes to gun control in America”,  writes Sarah Brady, now chair of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. But she keeps fighting, “for a nation free of gun violence.”

On this issue, President Obama has been quiet, strangely quiet – even after tragedy in Tucson, as well as today.  The only time he has broken his silence was in a little noticed recent op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star. Gun control clearly is not a political priority, maybe because, sadly, it is a battle that Obama cannot win in today’s America.