Thursday, July 26, 2012
Obama speaks on firearms restrictionsPresident Obama finally stepped out of his Pastor-in-Chief role over the Aurora shooting, in a speech to the National Urban League in New Orleans on Wednesday (Remarks by the President at the National Urban League Convention 07/25/2012).
He actually talked the problem of violence at some length, and I'm quoting that whole section here:
Now, I've got to say that I recognize we are in political season. But the Urban League understands that your mission transcends politics. Good jobs, quality schools, affordable health care, affordable housing -- these are all the pillars upon which communities are built. And yet, we've been reminded recently that all this matters little if these young people can't walk the streets of their neighborhood safely; if we can't send our kids to school without worrying they might get shot; if they can't go to the movies without fear of violence lurking in the shadows. (Applause.)The full paragraph I bolded above was the position Obama took in the 2008 campaign. Then as now, it made sense as policy and was popular. The phrase "gun control" may poll poorly, but the items he mentions in that paragraph are polled-tested, safe positions. Democratic critics had complained that he wasn't using the opportunity to state positions like this, so this has to count as a win for them. Here's Cenk Uygur reporting on Obama's previous positions on gun and ammunition regulations, Obama Used To Be A Vocal Advocate Of Gun Control The Young Turks YouTube date 07/24/2012:
But I show that whole section of the speech above because it gives a good look at what is so disheartening about Obama for progressives. For one thing, Obama spent Friday through Tuesday as Pastor-in-Chief on the Aurora killings, the White House even saying that Obama would be concentrating on enforcing existing laws. Meanwhile, FOX News and Republican hate radio and the extremist gun lobbies have been saying since before Obama was inaugurated that Obama and the UN had a secret plan to confiscate everyone's huntin' rifles, and will keep saying it no matter what Obama proposes or does. For instance, LaPierre's [sic] scares Congress with gun control conspiracy theories that work The War Room (current TV) YouTube date 07/25/2012:
There's an argument to be made that the NRA's political clout is vastly over-rated among Democrats who use it as a reason not to advocate even very popular restrictions on automatic weapons and gun shows. But they're bitter opponents of Obama even though he hasn't pushed any kind of serious "gun control" legislation, and has clearly wanted to avoid even talking about it. Yet he's reluctant to use these issues to win votes of independents among whom they are popular and at the same time hasn't (so far as I can see) used the occasion of the Aurora mass gun murder to stigmatize the conspiracy theories that the Republicans and the gun lobby flog endlessly to use against him.
Better late than never, but it would certainly have given those positions a much higher profile if he had stated them this past weekend when the Aurora shooting was the biggest news story nationally and drawing a lot of intense attention. I suspect his desire to pose as the postpartisan conciliator made it an almost unavoidable temptation to him to take the Pastor-in-Chief route.
The part about the efforts his Administration has made working with local officials to reduce everyday violence in cities is also good. I wonder why he hasn't been using in his statements since last Friday when the Aurora shooting happened.
But, unfortunately typical for Obama, he pepper-sprays his own message, right in the same speech, by framing the issue in conservative terms. Most notably in saying, "I, like most Americans, believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms." That interpretation of the 2nd Amendment is actually an innovation of the Roberts Court during Obama's first run for the Presidency in 2008. As Adam Liptak reported for the New York Times in Justices Extend Firearm Rights in 5-to-4 Ruling 06/28/2010:
The Second Amendment’s guarantee of an individual right to bear arms applies to state and local gun control laws, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in a 5-to-4 decision.Antonin Scalia wrote the narrow majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), writing, "The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home." That despite the wording of the Amendment itself: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
It was a major act of conservative judicial activism, overturning a large body of judicial precedent saying that the 2nd Amendment applied only to state militias. Justice Stevens recounted some of that history in his dissent in the Heller case:
Whether [the 2nd Amendment] also protects the right to possess and use guns for nonmilitary purposes like hunting and personal self-defense is the question presented by this case. The text of the Amendment, its history, and our decision in United States v. Miller, 307 U. S. 174 (1939), provide a clear answer to that question.Justice Breyer also dissented as follows:
The majority’s conclusion is wrong for two independent reasons. The first reason is that set forth by Justice Stevens—namely, that the Second Amendment protects militia-related, not self-defense-related, interests. These two interests are sometimes intertwined. To assure 18th-century citizens that they could keep arms for militia purposes would necessarily have allowed them to keep arms that they could have used for self-defense as well. But self-defense alone, detached from any militia-related objective, is not the Amendment’s concern.Aziz Huq in Justice Scalia's Dueling Opinions American Prospect Online 06/30/2008 discussed at the time what a radical ruling that was.
Although it is the current controlling Supreme Court ruling, Obama's position, which he also expressed in his first Presidential campaign, backs the conservative NRA position and endorses one of the most blatant acts of conservative judicial activism we've seen.
I don't mind his several "we pray" references. That's an appropriate and conventional way for a President to convey his concern and to recognize that the victims and their families may take comfort from their religious faith after an event like the mass gun murder of last Friday.
And with the phrase, "Instead of just throwing more money at the problem of violence," Obama was repeating a long-standing favorite piece of conservative framing. The Democratic President needs to be making the case for positive government that can accomplish important and constructive things, and in part he is doing that in his campaign. So why pepper-spray that message with a hack conservative phrase about "throwing more money at the problem"?
And, inevitably, we get, "I’m going to continue to work with members of both parties." But which Republicans in Congress are willing to work with him on new laws to accomplish the goals he at least suggested he holds in that bolded paragraph, restricting the sale of automatic weapons and better background checks?
Tags: aurora+shooting, barack obama, gun control
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Defend the bad against the worse."
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