The July 20 shooting spree at a midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado is only the most recent violent episode in a series of equally tragic and senseless shootings that have shocked the country for over a decade.
Perhaps, the progenitor of mass murders was the 1999 Columbine massacre. That black event was succeeded by shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, Northern Illinois University in 2008, and Tucson, Arizona in 2011 -- where then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords suffered a gunshot wound to the head during a “Congress On Your Corner” event.
Those, of course, are only the most publicized incidences of gun violence in the United States. Thousands of other Americans are shot and killed annually. In 2010 alone, of the 12,996 reported murders, firearms caused 8,775. This year, more people were murdered in Chicago than in war-torn Afghanistan, many as a result of rampant gun violence on Chicago’s South and West sides.
Sadly, President Barack Obama’s response to the tragedy has largely been lackluster. The morning after the shooting Obama indicated that he was “shocked and saddened” by the bloodshed, and on Sunday he called the shootings “an evil act.” There were no histrionics and no blaming, but there was no mention of policy solutions either.
While Obama’s orations are stirring to be sure, he is once again neglecting to push for comprehensive reforms, opting instead to assume a role as national mourner and speak in comfortable platitudes and broad generalities.
The pathetic response of both parties can be traced to two significant and interrelated factors: election year politics and the gun lobby. Less than four months from now, Americans will head to the polls to determine who will occupy the top leadership position in the United States for the next four years, and the politics of gun control is a historically poisonous topic to introduce to voters on both the left and the right, particularly during an election year. So, Obama has avoided the topic of gun control. Similarly, politicians across the spectrum have been mum for fear of alienating their constituents – or, more likely, inviting unwanted attacks from various Super PACs – and because of a broad consensus that not much can be done politically.
That may be an effect of the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) lobby. A 2010 Washington Post report details how the lobby wields astounding control over various elements of government, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The NRA also contributes heavily to elections – overwhelmingly to support Republican candidates – and spends additional millions directly lobbying. These factors together are resulting in a shrinking gun control caucus in the political system.
It’s a good thing that our nation’s leaders seek to comfort a grieving nation; it’s wholly unacceptable that time and again, tragedy after tragedy, those same leaders fail to enact the kinds of changes that could potentially prevent such attacks from ever occurring. It’s understandable – if frustrating – that Obama chooses not to tackle this issue as the election nears. However, if and when he is reelected, substantive action can and should be taken, such as closing the gun show loophole.
Until then, apparently, nothing will change.