President Barack Obama’s executive orders will not have a major impact on reducing gun violence. Still, his action could have lasting and profound significance.
For starters, the very modesty of his actions exposed the cynicism, dishonesty and lack of logic in the overheated outcry that greeted them. In defending his actions, Obama made an argument that could and should shift the conversation from one focused solely on gun owners’ rights to one that balances all citizens’ rights — including the rights to peaceful assembly and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that are stripped from victims of gun violence.
By simply taking those actions, Obama made sure the issue would remain in the 2016 presidential campaign, where it deserves a serious debate. That’s not what’s happening now.
Expanding the roster of gun sellers who must do background checks would not stop law-abiding citizens from buying guns. Hiring more federal agents to do quicker background checks helps enforce existing laws, something Obama’s opponents have demanded. Spending more on mental health treatment should be welcomed by Republicans in Congress who correctly identify that issue as vital to reducing gun violence. And funding more technology-related research is beyond reasonable. Smart-gun technology could allow only the registered owner of a gun to fire it; that would have stopped the shooter who stole his mother’s weapons and slaughtered 26 people at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
The modesty of Obama’s proposals is underscored by what he didn’t suggest, like expanding the number of days for a background check beyond the current three or seeking a federal crackdown on gun trafficking to reduce the number of illegal weapons used to kill people in New York.
Since Obama’s announcement, there’ve been angry accusations of constitutional overreach and promises to stop him in his tracks. Now, Obama is taking his message on the road, starting with last night’s televised town hall. It’s time to stop talking and do something. The victims of gun violence have been waiting and dying for far too long.