Donna Brazile: A long time coming
The headlines say President Obama has “taken on the gun lobby,” but actually, he has taken on our culture of violence, including the violent rhetoric that accompanies any attempt to alter it.
“If Americans of every background stand up and say, enough; we’ve suffered too much pain and care too much about our children to allow this to continue — then change will come,” Obama told the nation this week. From what wisdom I’ve acquired in 50 years, he’s right. Change requires both the will and the effort to cause change. Do we have it in us?
According to the UPI, in February the U.S. Senate will take up a bill to deal with gun violence. Finally, we are having a national conversation about how to reduce mass killings and what actions we can take to save lives one at a time.
Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, told National Public Radio, “I think it’s great that we’re having this conversation today, and this day is a long time coming.”
For 11,478 Americans in 2012, including 20 schoolchildren and six adults in Newtown, it comes too late. It comes too late for Gabby Giffords, whose life was permanently altered by a madman’s bullet. It comes too late for James Brady, the former White House press secretary who was severely handicapped by Ronald Reagan’s would-be assassin.
Giffords and Brady (who turned 72 this year) both lead gun-control organizations. They remind us that it’s not just those the bullets have killed who matter. The wounded matter. The survivors matter. The families matter.
In fact, our national character matters. Our Declaration of Independence states that among our inalienable rights are “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Gun violence — the culture that fosters it and the rhetoric that praises it — deprives us of those rights.
Obama’s press conference struck the right balance between the “individual right” reading of the Second Amendment and the Constitution’s mandate to “provide for the general welfare.” The president acknowledged the controversy and respected the concerns of all parties involved, then, in addition to proposing legislation to reinstate the ban on assault weapons, immediately signed 23 executive orders. Some facilitate background checks of potential gun buyers, making it easier for gun dealers to be part of the solution. Some provide resources to schools, facilitating the hiring of a security guard or mental health counselor.
These mostly administrative directives, well within the president’s power to direct the operation of existing federal programs, were based on common sense and represented consensus. They were the result of broad-based conversations and represent the will of the people.
NBC News said, “In fact, most are administrative — publishing letters, writing memos and appointing administrators.”
But many on the right want to use our national conversation about gun violence as yet another opportunity to demonize Obama. Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky says Obama has a “king complex,” although he’s issued fewer executive orders than any president in 100 years.
The NRA, in particular, has let the dogs out. It produced an Internet ad that attacked Obama for allowing his daughters to have Secret Service protection, which is federally mandated. Mike Barnicle, appearing on the MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” broadcast, called it “pornographic.” Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the co-hosts of the show, were so stunned and horrified by the ad, they were speechless for several seconds.
Scarborough couldn’t believe the NRA did not understand that any president’s children had, as he put it, “a target on their backs.” Both he and Brzezinski condemned the NRA as “fringe,” “extremist” and not the organization it used to be.
New regulations and laws alone won’t stop all gun violence and protect all our schools and children. And, as Jerry Henry, executive director of GeorgiaCarry.org, said on CNN, we need to enforce the gun laws already on the books.
But clearly, more needs to be done. The president’s proposals include universal background checks, banning assault weapons and capping magazine capacity. But they also include funding for police, for research on gun violence, for school counseling and for security. He wants to both strengthen gun tracking and promote safe gun ownership. Several directives also address the national mental health crisis and its intersection with gun violence.
No program will be 100 percent perfect. Columbine had armed guards in the school. Shooters in Aurora and at Virginia Tech were on mental health officials’ radar, but deaths still happened.
But because we can’t do everything doesn’t mean we should do nothing. The “right to bear arms” is not absolute, as even the NRA acknowledges.
It is time we stop the personal attacks, stop the paranoia, and work together to protect the rights of our children — beginning with the right to grow into adulthood.
DONNA BRAZILE is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News.