New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg publicly demanded that President Obama and GOP presidential rival Mitt Romney tell where they stand on new and tougher gun control laws in light of the Colorado Theater massacre. Bloomberg wasn't alone in the demand. A bevy of mostly Democratic politicians quickly joined in the chorus and also demanded that gun control be rammed back on the federal agenda. But that won't happen. And that's not solely because the NRA and the gun lobby is so all powerful, and financially well-heeled, that it can beat back any congressional move to impose tougher restrictions on gun access.
The bigger reason is that President Obama and Romney see guns not as an evil onto themselves but as a fact of American life and a rigidly protected right. In the Illinois state legislature Obama was a tough gun control advocate and pushed hard for bans on all semi-automatic weapons, and tighter restrictions on most firearms. And later as a freshman U.S. senator he backed ripping the legal shield from gun makers and dealers that protected them from lawsuits when their weapons are proven to have been used in wanton criminal and violent acts. During the presidential campaign, Obama was just as hard line on tighter restrictions on gun sales. The difference then, though, was that he was not just one among many U.S. senators but the Democratic presidential standard bearer. This brought the wrath of the NRA and the gun owners and lovers down on his head. He was quickly demonized as an anti-gun zealot.
Obama quickly reversed gear and publicly declared that he believed in and would protect the Second Amendment right to bear arms. That muted the loud attacks on him from the gun lobby. Though many chalked up Obama's seeming reversal to the sharp attacks on him, and the power of the gun lobby, this was not the sole cause for the apparent change. A close reading of Obama's views and even the legislation that he backed as a state senator, shows that Obama's prime concern was getting a handle on illegal gun sales, and the spread of and access to semi-automatic weapons. There was no hint that he advocated keeping guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens. He would have bumped up hard against the Second Amendment with any position beyond advocating tougher restrictions on certain types of gun sales. As a presidential candidate and president that would be totally untenable. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, however, was so disgusted with what it perceived as Obama's flip on the issue that it him gave him a grade of "F'' for failing to push the gun restrictions he supported while campaigning. Beyond that Obama was simply following the precedent of nearly all presidents and that's to leave tougher restrictions on gun sales and trafficking to the states. Some states have passed laws that ban assault guns and high capacity ammunition magazines, limit the number of gun sales, require child safety locks on new guns, and outlaw the sale of cheap handguns. The huge drawback to the state by state gun action is that it does not significantly limit the massive trafficking in guns across state lines. Ultimately only Congress can pass a uniform federal standard to restrict the manufacture, sale and transport of guns. And that won't happen any time soon. Despite Bloomberg and others call for Obama to offer specific proposals on gun control, it's still Congress and the states call.
Romney, as Massachusetts governor, pretty much had the same position as Obama during Obama's state and US Senate days. He backed tougher restrictions on some gun sales and an assault weapons ban. And as Obama did, Romney took much heat then from the NRA for his stance. But a close reading of Romney's position showed that he would not go to the barricades on the gun issue. He sent a strong message when he declared a state day in Massachusetts as a "Right to Bear Arms Day" and became a lifetime NRA member. As president, the most that Romney would do is back a federal assault weapons ban, the same as Obama. But that's where it would stop.
Romney got load cheers when he told the NRA convention last April that he wouldn't back any laws that "burden" legal gun ownership. President Obama if he addressed the NRA almost certainly would deliver the same message. Obama and Romney's advocacy of some gun restrictions would not have kept the guns out of the hands of accused Aurora, Colorado theater shooter James Holmes. He bought the guns legally from area gun shops, and reportedly thousands of rounds of ammo on the internet. The bitter reality is that Holmes's gun and ammo buy was legal and that's exactly the "burden" that presidents and presidential candidates are not prepared to demand that Congress, even if it was willing, will ask gun owners and buyers to bear. The Batman massacre won't change that in Campaign 2012.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent political commentator on MSNBC and a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.
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