Two months have passed since the massacre in Tucson, and despite widespread panic among US gun owners that an Assault Weapon Ban is eminent, the White House has remained as eerily silent on the topic of guns as they have since taking office back in 2008—that is until now.
“I know that every time we try to talk about guns, it can reinforce stark divides,” Obama wrote Monday in an article published as an op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star. “People shout at one another, which makes it impossible to listen. We mire ourselves in stalemate, which makes it impossible to get to where we need to go as a country.”
On the heels of this statement the White House announced that the administration will initiate talks this week with leaders from both sides of the gun control bones of contention to try to hash out an agreement over legislative measures targeted at reducing gun violence nationwide. The President has said that he specifically wants to talk about improving the background check system, creating an “instant, accurate, comprehensive and consistent system for background checks for sellers who want to do the right thing” with better record-keeping to “stop the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun… and make sure that criminals can’t escape it.”
He continued, “Porous background checks are bad for police officers, for law-abiding citizens and for the sellers themselves. If we’re serious about keeping guns away from someone who’s made up his mind to kill, then we can’t allow a situation where a responsible seller denies him a weapon at one store, but he effortlessly buys the same gun someplace else.”
The President never mentioned accused Tucson shooter Jared Loughner by name, but alluded to him several times. He referred to him in the Arizona piece as “a man our Army rejected as unfit for service; a man one of our colleges deemed too unstable for studies; a man apparently bent on violence, was able to walk into a store and buy a gun.” Loughner lawfully purchased the Glock and extended magazine he is accused of using in the shooting.
He also pointed to presumed failures to properly effectuate gun legislation by the past administration: “The National Instant Criminal Background Check System is the filter that’s supposed to stop the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun.
Bipartisan legislation four years ago was supposed to strengthen this system, but it hasn’t been properly implemented. We should in fact reward the states that provide the best data – and therefore do the most to protect our citizens.”
Jay Carney, the White House Press Secretary, gave no indication of which groups would receive an invite to the sessions this week, but he said the Justice Department is “meeting with stakeholders on all sides of the issue to look at ways we can find common ground.” Groups anticipated to be in attendance are the National Rifle Association and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s group Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Gun control advocates strongly criticized the president for not addressing gun control during his State of the Union address in the wake of the Arizona tragedy. Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign and Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence wrote in a statement “This is the most significant statement any president has made on gun violence in over a decade.”
How hard the administration will push is still open to interpretation and with Obama currently embroiled on the warpath for education reform, choosing to issue his rally call to the country’s opposing gun armies in a declining, limited circulation newspaper is a strange choice and experts seem to think implies a more controlled approach. Likewise, Democrats, once ardent apologists for gun legislation, have comparatively surrendered the issue in recent years in national campaigns with many citing a belief that it unnerves moderate voters and incurs the wrath of the NRA.
There is no word on whether the discussions will regard a specific measure crafted or endorsed by the Obama administration, though the president (as evidenced by quotes above) has made public that he anticipates challenges in discussing the issue productively and navigating the political minefield that has always characterized enacting gun control in America.
In this spirit, Obama wrote that regardless of political stance, “Clearly, there’s more we can do to prevent gun violence. Some will say that anything short of the most sweeping anti-gun legislation is a capitulation to the gun lobby… while others will predictably cast any discussion as the opening salvo in a wild-eyed scheme to take away everybody’s guns. Most gun-control advocates know that most gun owners are responsible citizens and most gun owners know that the word ‘commonsense’ isn’t a code word for ‘confiscation. I want this to at least be the beginning of a new discussion on how we can keep America safe for all our people.”
And with well over 2,000 Americans killed by gun violence since the Arizona tragedy, Obama wrote that “None of us should be willing to remain passive in the face of violence or resigned to watching helplessly as another rampage unfolds.”