This nation needs President Barack Obama’s leadership more than it needs his empathy. His comforter-in-chief role is less and less consoling as the body count soars.
Only a commander-in-chief can mount a crusade to ban the assault weapons and powerful ammunition clips that this year alone have mowed down a theatre full of moviegoers in Colorado, a temple full of Sikh worshippers in Wisconsin and, now, a classroom full of elementary school children in Connecticut.
We value the president’s heartfelt tears for the 20 children and seven adults slaughtered in Newtown. We share them. But a flag flying at half-staff above the White House will do nothing to stop the next massacre, the one that is surely coming if Washington continues to skirt the necessity of serious gun control in this country.
Nothing the president says, no matter how tearfully, will return a dead little boy or girl to their parents’ arms in that devastated Fairfield County town.
There will be yet another debate in full in the weeks ahead about the scope of the Second Amendment and the scourge of mental illness but Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, was dead wrong to say that now is not the time to discuss policy changes. Now is exactly the time. Nothing the president says, no matter how tearfully, will return a dead little boy or girl to their parents’ arms in that devastated Fairfield County town. What he demands from Congress, forcefully, could keep another child, in another setting out of a semiautomatic bullet’s path.
No one expects a total ban on guns in a country where at least 250 million are in circulation, where a sports broadcaster is shamed into apologizing for even suggesting that the easy availability of guns might have contributed to the murder-suicide earlier this month when Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot Kasandra Perkins, the mother of their 3-month-old daughter, and then turned the gun on himself.
But, if we are not yet mature enough to talk about comprehensive gun control, surely we are sane enough to agree to take battlefield-style, semiautomatic weapons off the streets of the United States.
For four years and one re-election campaign, Obama bobbed and weaved on the need to reinstate the assault weapons ban that Congress cowardly let expire in 2004, an initiative he has said repeatedly that he supports but that he has just as consistently ducked for fear of the wrath of the National Rifle Association.
Time’s up, Mr. President. There is a far worse backlash to be felt than that orchestrated by the American gun lobby. The American people have had enough of the carnage.
In the days ahead, we will bear witness to a parade of heart-wrenching funerals. Tiny, bullet-riddled bodies will be lowered into the frozen ground in impossibly small caskets. Their mothers will weep at their biers. Their fathers will falter at their gravesites. In the peculiar iconography of public grieving, Teddy bears and helium balloons and votive candles will sprout at the entrance to the Sandy Hook School.
I saw it in Littleton, Colorado in 1999 when teenagers smothered one slain classmate’s car in floral tributes and turned another’s white coffin into a makeshift yearbook, signing their names in primary colors with Magic Markers.
I saw it in 1996 in Dunblane, Scotland, a medieval town even smaller than Newtown, where a crazed gunman slaughtered 16 kindergarteners and their teacher as they gathered for daily exercise in the school gymnasium. Great Britain immediately tightened its already tough gun laws.
“As a country, we have been through this too many times,” Obama said in the immediate aftermath of the Connecticut massacre. Then wipe your tears, Mr. President, and do what you were elected to do. Lead.
- Cognoscenti: John E. Rosenthal: Gun Laws Work, So Why Don’t We Have More Of Them?
- Only A Game: Bill Littlefield: Covering Sports When They Seem Trivial
- Video, Transcript: President Obama’s emotional address to the nation
- Photos: The Connecticut school shooting scene
- Twitter: Follow the #Newtown hashtag