The executive actions announced this week by President Barack Obama will not have a major impact on reducing gun violence. That does not mean he accomplished nothing. What Obama did could have lasting and profound significance in this roiling national debate.
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. And by simply taking those actions, Obama made sure the issue would remain front and center in the 2016 presidential campaign, where it deserves a serious debate.
That’s not what’s happening now.
Posting an image of Obama in a storm-trooper outfit and saying he is coming for your guns, as Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz did, is utter nonsense. Nothing the president did or said could lead to that conclusion. Nor does it constitute an infringement on the Second Amendment.
Expanding the roster of gun sellers who must do background checks would not stop law-abiding citizens from buying guns. It’s within the framework of what already exists, and background checks are supported by the vast majority of Americans — and most gun owners as well.
Hiring more federal agents to do quicker background checks is a form of something Obama’s opponents have long demanded — that existing laws be enforced.
Spending more money on mental health treatment should be welcomed by Republicans in Congress who correctly identify that issue as vital to reducing gun violence. Instead of criticizing Obama, they should work with him to get it right.
Funding more research on gun safety technology is beyond reasonable criticism. A locator device similar to what exists on cellphones could disable a lost or stolen gun; hundreds of thousands go missing every year. 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 did not propose, such as expanding the number of days allowed for a background check beyond the current three. That could have stopped Charleston, South Carolina, shooting suspect Dylann Roof from purchasing his weapon. And Obama could have sought a federal crackdown on gun trafficking to reduce the number of illegal weapons shipped up North and used to kill people in this region.
Angry accusations of constitutional overreach and promises to stop Obama in his tracks hide a simple truth: If these steps are indeed beyond the power of the president, and yet they largely are things you support in principle, then stop talking and do something. The victims of gun violence have been waiting and dying for far too long.