Obama makes a brave effort to deal with American gun obsession
Reflections by Gerry Warner
I’d never seen a president cry before, but I saw Barack Obama cry this week and I have to say it gave me an uncomfortable, yet strangely inspired feeling. Could this be the time an American president actually gets through to millions of his countrymen that the U.S has no greater “enemy” than its citizens’paranoid obsession with guns?
American guns, of course. Guns owned by Americans, aimed by Americans and triggers pulled by Americans. And the victims, of course, are almost always Americans shot in their own homes – not by terrorists from abroad or an intruder – but by a spouse or other family member. But what do you expect in a country where guns are as accessible as toasters in the average American home and where there are more guns than people, according to a 2012 Congressional Research Service report. (350 million guns for 317 million people)
The National Rifle Association may greet this figure with glee, but no other country in the world is as gun crazy as this, not even countries riven by ethnic or political strife or grinding poverty. Only Mexico and Estonia have higher homicide figures than the US.
Want more cold, hard statistics? Try these. In 2013, the last year of complete stats, the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention lists 33,169 firearm deaths, a stunning 1.3 per cent of all American deaths that year. Civilian gun deaths in the U.S. average more than 30,000-a-year, a total much greater than the 6,840 Americans killed in the Iraq war and 2,326 in Afghanistan. That’s a lot of dead Americans. But what made President Obama cry openly at a press conference Monday wasn’t all these war deaths. It was the gruesome slaughter of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut Dec. 14, 2012 that moved the president to tears.
“Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” he said as tears coursed down his cheeks. “And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day," referring to his hometown where he began his political career.
Obama then surprised the participants at the press conference by resolutely announcing he would take executive action to go over the heads of a Republican controlled Senate and Congress to bring in legislation requiring an expansion of background testing for acquiring guns and more funds for mental health programs that might help forestall gun massacres.
The political response to Obama’s stronger stand was predictable.
“Today Obama proved again why he’s one of most liberal and divisive presidents in history,” twittered Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush. “Bad guys will always have guns,” said Republican front-runner Donald Trump, repeating one of the oldest anti-gun control clichés. “Not worth the paper they’re printed on,” said Senator Ted Cruz, reaching for an even older cliché.
Yet to most Canadians, Obama’s new measures sound as exciting as warm milk because extensive background checks are already part of our laws and handguns are classified as restricted weapons requiring a permit with rigid conditions to acquire and cannot be carried openly as is the case in many US states. But we are talking about two different cultures. In Canada, guns are almost entirely used for hunting wild game. In the US, targets include people, and tragically in many cases, school children.
In all honesty, I feel like crying too when I think of all those dead school children, including a very few in Canada. But this week in the Home of the Brave and Land of the Free, a tenured Florida university professor was fired for claiming on his blog that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a hoax staged by the Obama administration to promote gun control! He also made similar comments about the recent San Bernardino gun tragedy.
In a country that harbours vile kooks like this there are only two words for President Obama’s likely futile efforts to separate millions of Americans from their guns and their cherished right to bear arms. Good luck!
Gerry Warner is a retired journalist.