Friday, January 8, 2016

Seeking to Reduce Gun Violence

This week President Obama has announced concrete steps seeking to decrease gun violence in the U.S. Incomprehensibly, even before he announced what those steps were, his political opponents were denouncing his proposed actions.
Why, why is there so much opposition to efforts to reduce gun violence in this country? I just don’t understand it.
Yes, I understand that many people own guns and like the feeling of security they get from gun ownership.
Yes, I understand that many people think that the Second Amendment guarantees gun ownership by every American citizen (maybe with a few exceptions).
Yes, I understand that some people fear federal control and want to be free of government regulations.
But why, why is there so much opposition to the President’s efforts to reduce gun violence?
 On Monday, prior to the President’s announcement of his plans, Representative Sam Graves in his weekly email to us, his Missouri 6th District constituents, promised that he will “aggressively oppose the President as he seeks to limit the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding American people.”
But really, Sam, is that what the President is seeking to do?
Some right-wing rhetoric was even stronger. For example, on January 4 Fox News commentator Todd Starnes declared, “President Obama is plotting with his attorney general to get our guns.” And a little later he blatantly said, “This president ultimately wants to disarm the nation.”
Then Starnes charged that the President was “declaring war on law-abiding citizens.”
 But Graves and Starnes, as well as the Republican presidential candidates who also ripped into the President’s proposed plans before even listening to them, are incorrect and (willfully?) misleading in their charges.
Unfortunately, many people heard only the criticism by the President’s political enemies rather than listening to what the President actually said.
In his Tuesday speech, as well as in his town hall meeting yesterday evening, the President emphasized shoring up holes in the federal background check system for gun purchases, kick-starting so-called smart gun technology, and devoting millions of additional dollars to mental health services.
That certainly doesn’t sound like infringing upon the Second Amendment. And Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the chief law enforcement officer of the U.S., has publicly stated that the President’s proposals are “consistent with the Second Amendment.”
In his Jan. 5 talk, the President stated his position very clearly: “Contrary to the claims of what some gun rights proponents have suggested, this hasn’t been the first step in some slippery slope to mass confiscation. . . . this is not a plot to take away everybody’s guns. You pass a background check; you purchase a firearm.” 

He went on to state that the steps he is taking “will actually lead to a smoother process for law-abiding gun owners, a smoother process for responsible gun dealers, a stronger process for protecting the public from dangerous people.”
Oliver Munday, New York Times 

 The editorial board of the New York Times explained in a Jan. 4 article that most of the executive actions of the President “are aimed at making it harder for criminals and other dangerous people to get their hands on a firearm.”
They also emphasized that his actions are what even gun-rights activists want: “keeping guns from people likely to use them in crimes, and enforcing gun laws already on the books.”
That sounds like a reasonable plan and something Congress should have done long ago, but didn’t—and still doesn’t seem to want to.
So my perplexity remains, Why is there so much opposition to the President’s efforts to reduce gun violence? It just doesn’t make any sense.


  1. Here is the link to an op-ed piece in the Washington Post written by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot five years ago today: (The full text of the President's Tuesday talk is also embedded in the article.)

  2. Logic and being reasonable has little to do with American politics. At a phycological level it's a contest between the red team and the blue team. Those who oppose Obama's initiatives do so reflexively. One suggestion I've seen is that if Obama opposed eating yellow snow, Fox News would explain why it's nutritious.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Clif. You are probably right about the reflexive response. But why has that come to be the case, and what would it take for politics to (once again?) be grounded in logical thinking and reasonableness?

    2. "Why has that come to be the case?" I think that some Americans are angry because they perceive their privilege is diminished when some previously underprivileged people get a seat at the table. Perceived loss of white privilege has something to do with it. The color of Obama's skin has something to do with it.

    3. Thanks for your comments, Charles. I think you are probably right: the color of the President's skin and the perceived loss of white privilege are two significant factors. Perhaps there are some, but I haven't seen any people of color who have spoken out in opposition to the President's actions to stem gun violence.

  3. Leroy, thanks for your post this morning. And, thanks for your ongoing thoughtful blogs. I don't respond to all of them, but I read most. Making sense of this lust for guns may find some assistance in Martha Nussbaum's new book (well, new to me; it came out in 2012), The New Religious Intolerance. She has an early chapter on fear, much if not most of which derives from citizens' inability to invoke "sound principles" toward human equality; foster "arguments that are not self-serving, targeting in alleged fault in the minority that is ubiquitous in the majority culture"; and third to project a curious and sympathetic imagination (toward those who are not like us etc.). Politicians trying to get elected, of course, offer self-serving explanations that fan fears so un-tethered. People who are frightened about how their lives might change will blindly reach for anything that looks like it will keep them safe (from their imagined fears). Demonizing President Obama's strengthening the gun laws that are already on the books is an uninformed grasping for security that is falsely perceived to be lost.

    1. Milton, it is good to hear from you again and I much appreciate your comments and your introduction of Martha Nussbaum's book, which I was not aware of. Even though it is now more than three years old, with the subtitle being "Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age" it sounds as if it is very relevant for consideration during this election year.

      For reasons partly rooted in exaggerated political rhetoric and irresponsible "news" stations, there seems to be a lot of fear (and anger) in the country, and as you suggest that fear (and anger) seems to underlie much of the (unreasonable) opposition to, and distortion of, the President's proposals.

    2. I believe the problem goes far beyond the fearful people and the politicians they elect, although there is plenty to critique there. Powerful money interests working in the shadows shape public understanding in extraordinary ways we mostly only vaguely see. For example, the NRA is far to the right of even its own members. This is because the members are just along for the ride. The deep pockets of the gun manufacturers and their allies control the NRA. As the saying goes, "He who has the gold makes the rules."

      A second level of this money problem is that there is an interlocking system of money in different industries. So rich bankers, manufacturers, software companies, entertainment companies, energy companies, drug companies and so forth all carefully reinforce each other's messages. Now that the Supreme Court in Citizens United has opened the floodgates for unlimited dark money in politics, the oligarchs who rule America are even more powerful.

      The one thing that mass murders accomplishes is shedding bright light into the dark world of corporate power. Nothing we see there is pleasing, either the agony of families in despair, nor the callous disregard of all that most of us hold holy by our corporate overlords. I saw recently a study that showed that when you match up a variety of policy issues with the interests of various groups in America that the only group that really matters is the extremely wealthy. We are a plutocracy today. It is not just a threat for tomorrow. This is why 90 percent of Americans can favor reasonable gun control, but nothing happens. The rich have practiced divide-and-conquer, and can usually only be challenged by other rich people.

      This was the genius of Obama's Affordable Care Act. He set up a system that rewarded a number of rich players (think insurance and medical industries) enabling him to maneuver around entrenched opposition. Even then it was a close thing. We still have the most expensive healthcare in the world because our oligarchs want it that way.

      The Second Amendment, like the rest of the Constitution, sets up a careful balancing act. The right to bear arms is balanced with a clear call for "well-ordered militia." Like the battles over the First Amendment, there is plenty to argue about in the Second Amendment. However, the absolutist position popular today is not required by the Second Amendment. Indeed, it is a very strained reading of the amendment. For this reason, I see little to be gained constitutionally by changing the amendment, as some have argued. Any new version of the amendment would almost certainly be subject to the same type of strained reading. The very battle for the change might itself do some good, but only because it would point us toward a more sane reading of the whole issue.

      The good news is that America does not have to be a plutocracy. The mechanisms of democracy are still there, waiting to be revived. So we point the light into the dark corners, pointing out the many lives shot down every year across America, hoping that in time the citizens of America will wake up to the true situation. Until then, the plutocrats will make all the money they can.

    3. Craig, thanks for once again sharing significant comments. (As I have said to you from time to time, your comments greatly enhance the value of my blog, and I appreciate your contribution very much.)

      Thanks for these comments that, rightfully, link the issue of guns to economic considerations. I have often said, even though I forget from time to time, that when considering any major issue the economic factor ought to be one of the main aspects of the issue to be considered.

  4. Being an Independent and Not tied to either major party, I feel the opposition to our President`s gun proposals are based on what some of those repling to your question suggests and I can Only add my opinion.
    I think it has to do with the volume of negative information about our President(much of it probably Not true. We All have heard the old adage:"where there is this much smoke there is probably a fire somewhere"?
    Also people have a tendancy to be somewhat paranoid and believe what they hear and see often enough.
    Hardcore Republicans seem to believe&follow the lead of those they support and trust.
    Most peole are followers and don`t take the time&effort seek the truth.
    I think if there is something that our President could include in his proposals to assure those disbelievers that this in No way is trying to take guns away from the people, could possibly go a long way to help people trust our President.
    This is just my two(2) cents worth.

    1. Thanks for reading and responding to today's post, John Tim.

      I think you are right in saying that a large part of the problem is that there is a lot of misinformation on the airwaves and in cyberspace that influences many people, who mainly just listen to people they like and generally believe whatever they hear without checking it out to see if it is actually true.

      In his speech on Tuesday morning and in the town hall meeting last night, the President said repeatedly that not only is he not trying to take people's guns away from them, he is not even trying to make it harder for law-abiding citizens to purchase guns.

      But the problem seems to be that people don't listen to what he says or, more seriously, they do not believe what he says. So when the President says, "This is not a plot to get your guns," some people think that he is lying and that the lie is part of the plot!

      So what can be done? Maybe not much, but at the very least we can try to listen to voices of reason, voices that have consistently spoken the truth with integrity. And we can urge people to quite listening so much to voices that give evidence of speaking from paranoia and irrational fear.

  5. Here are comments from Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson in Kentucky:

    "I agree, Leroy. The hostility to the proposals boggle my mind. I think, though, we can find much of the answer in Republican hostility to anything President Obama proposes, no matter how good it may be for the country."

  6. Thinking Friend George Takashima, a pastor in Canada sent the following comments by email:

    "I totally agree with President Obama and also with what you have expressed.

    "In our country, we have rules and regulations re firearms....and I believe the President is moving in the right direction....should have been done a long time ago.

    "Yes, we still have gun violence in spite of the law but nothing compared to our southern neighbours."

  7. Thinking Friend Craig Doeden posted these comments on Facebook, and I am taking the liberty of sharing them here also:

    "I think your spot on. I grew up in a gun toting state. None of the people I know that are still gun toters would object to the same provisions regulating an auto license. Essentially, you need a license, you have insurance, and you lose points against your license for violations of the laws regulating your right to carry/have a firearm. Oh, and you have background checks in place."

  8. I just read an interesting spin on what we are discussing. It is called "Docs vs. Glocks." See this link:

  9. Thanks, Craig, for sharing this. It was the first time I had heard about that issue in Florida. But it reminded me of the lengthy opposition to Vivek Murthy, the new U.S. Surgeon General, finally approved in Dec. 2014. The NRA and almost all Republican Senators were opposed to him because he called guns a public health concern.

  10. The National Catholic Reporter editorial staff came out today with a good editorial about the gun issue. The link is

  11. I appreciate Craig Dempsey's perspective on the financial/economic connections of the domestic weapons trade. We need to "follow the money" -- some people are making a lot of money through provoking fear and a gun/violence mentality. It's a short jump from there to the buying of political influence in Washington and around the nation, so as to create or forestall policies that might lend some sanity and offer some peace to our cities. I remember Will Rogers' comment: "We have the best government money can buy." It's likely that Michelle Alexander is correct (in "The New Jim Crow") that a large populist movement will be required to instigate change.

  12. As highlighted by President Obama’s press conference, Guns and Gun control brings on strong emotions on both sides of the issue. I think everyone would agree that we want to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and people with mental illnesses. The sad fact is that under President Obama’s term of office, gun sales have doubled which has likely lead to more guns in the hands of criminals and people with mental illnesses.

    Guns and alcohol share similar challenges in our society. In the US ~100 years ago, we tried to get rid of alcohol because of all the problems alcohol caused. I believe we created as many problems as we solved with the way the US tried to restrict alcohol. Not sure the solution to gun violence but how President Obama is trying to solve gun violence is doubling the number of guns sold in the US. If you were trying to come up with a program to generate more gun sales and put more guns into circulation, I am not sure if you could have come up with a better way than what has taken place in the last 7 years.

    100,000 people die each year from alcohol-related causes. This is about 2.6x more than gun related causes (of course there is overlap between the 2 – guns and alcohol do not mix well).

  13. Doug, thanks for your pertinent comments; I appreciate you taking the time to write and to share links to significant articles.

    I share your perception that guns and alcohol "share similar challenges in our society." I wrote about this twice three years ago, on Jan. 10 and Jan. 30, 2013. (Here is the link to the former:

    You wrote, "I think everyone would agree that we want to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and people with mental illnesses." Yes, you'd think that that would be the case--but Congress has failed to take any action that would have that effect and President Obama's attempt to do that has been met with massive opposition.

    The rise in gun sales in the seven years under the Obama administration has been because of irrational fears that the President was going to confiscate people's guns. Those fears have been spurred by the NRA and the President's political opponents.

    If Congress can't enact any legislation to keep guns from criminals and mentally ill people, what better way would you suggest?