This past week Pres. Barack Obama delivered a speech in Arizona in which he proposed that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System be strengthened so as to deny known felons the opportunity to purchase guns. Groups like Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Ceasefire Pennsylvania came out praising the president for calling for this legislation. The irony is that the law already exists; it is just that some states and local jurisdictions don’t abide by the law and faithfully provide the data that is needed. The problem is not the lack of law, but the lack of enforcement. You can bet that those states that have loose gun control laws are also those states that don’t cooperate with this federal law either. Apparently, for the gun lobby any law that might restrict the right of someone, even someone with a history of violent crime, is too much “regulation.”
If there was any doubt about how far the gun lobby will go to fight any and all gun regulations, following his speech, Pres. Obama invited leaders of the NRA to meet with members of his Justice Department to discuss gun legislation they could agree on. NRA Executive VP Wayne LaPierre rejected the invitation saying that Obama was only using a “political maneuver” designed to “take away our Second Amendment rights.” However, as Obama pointed out in his speech, his administration has expanded the rights of gun owners, and he now supports the Supreme Court’s specious interpretation of the Second Amendment. Moreover he waited two years before filling the directorship of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), and did not extend the assault weapons ban. Barack has been the best friend the NRA has ever had, Republican or Democrat. However, as far as La Pierre and the NRA is concerned, any gun law apparently is a bad law, even though they apparently have Obama eating out of their hands.
Recently, I made a presentation on the gun lobby at a conference. In the context of that presentation, I referred to a comment made by James Carville, Bill Clinton’s political advisor in the 1990’s. In 1993 then Pres. Clinton signed the Brady Bill, establishing the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (that Obama says we now must enforce), and pushed through the Assault Weapons Ban (which Obama let expire). In the 1994 midterm elections, the Democrats took a beating at the polls much like they did this past year. Carville attributed that defeat in part to Clinton’s support of these two significant pieces of gun control legislation. Ever since that time Democrats have been running scared of the NRA and the gun lobby, backing away from any efforts to enact common sense gun legislation such as requiring more extensive background checks that would include things such as mental health records, and repealing the Tiahrt Amendment a bill that exempts the BATF from releasing data on the gun shops that are the source of the most guns used in crime. By his tepid call to ask states to follow the laws that already exist, Obama and his Democratic cohorts continue in their timid inaction on gun legislation. (To read the full story see Dennis Henigan’s book, Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths That Paralyze American Gun Policy).
What the Obama and the rest of the Democrats fail to grasp is that any policy of conciliation with the ultra conservatives is fruitless. For the conservatives is no compromise, only hard ball. The gun lobby is not satisfied with the status quo, they are pushing hard for legislation that would allow guns to be carried onto college campuses and on public transportation, and laws that would release the ban on all efforts to regulate the sale of guns of any size or firepower. Only by being as hard nosed and persistent as the gun lobby can those of us who seek to limit the sale of handguns (whose only purpose is to kill and injure other people), hope to see significant changes need in gun control legislation to be enacted.
Comedian John Stewart has often made fun of the Democrats for being “wimps” on the issues they say are important to them. They have no spine to speak up for strong legislation whether it deals with health care or gun legislation. The truth be told, some of these “wimpish” Democrats are probably as much in the pocket of the gun lobby as their conservative counterparts. Ironically, Gabrielle Giffords was one of those pro-gun Democrats; look where it got her.
In my presentation, I argued that the only effective response to the insane gun-mania and power of the gun industry and gun lobby is a grass roots movement. Christians and other faith groups can and must play a part in developing that movement. Just as the gun lobby speaks of the values that support the right to own and use a gun, so too people of faith deal in the realm of values, but only those that speak to the need for peace and harmony among people. While we may not have the money the gun lobby can throw around ($2.1 million int he 2010 elections alone), we can galvanize people to act with their voice and their vote. This is why grassroots, faith based groups like Heeding God’s Call are essential to the gun violence prevention movement. If we wait for our political leaders to act, even our supposed progressive president, we will be waiting a very long time.