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Will Barack Obama Face Down the Gun Lobby?

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By E.J. Dionne Jr.
Monday, April 20, 2009

Try to imagine that hundreds or thousands of guns, including assault weapons, were pouring across the Mexican border into Arizona, New Mexico and Southern California, arming criminal gangs who were killing American law enforcement officials and other U.S. citizens.

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Then imagine the Mexican president saying, "Well, we would really like to do something about this, but our political system makes helping you very difficult." Wouldn't Mexico's usual critics attack that country's political system for corruption and ineptitude and ask: "Why can't they stop this lawlessness?"

That, in reverse, is the position President Obama was in last week when he visited Mexico. The Mexican gangs are able to use guns purchased in the United States because of our insanely permissive gun regulations, and Obama had to make this unbelievably clotted, apologetic statement at a news conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderón:

"I continue to believe that we can respect and honor the Second Amendment rights in our Constitution, the rights of sportsmen and hunters and homeowners who want to keep their families safe, to lawfully bear arms, while dealing with assault weapons that, as we know, here in Mexico, are helping to fuel extraordinary violence. Violence in our own country as well. Now, having said that, I think none of us are under the illusion that reinstating that ban would be easy."

In other words: Our president can deal with all manner of big problems, but the American gun lobby is just too strong to let him push a rational and limited gun regulation through Congress.

It's particularly infuriating that Obama offered this statement of powerlessness just a few days before today's 10th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado -- and just after a spree of mass homicides across the United States took the lives of least 57 people.

No other democratic country in the world has the foolish, ineffectual gun regulations that we do. And, unfortunately, what Obama said is probably true.

Earlier this year, when Attorney General Eric Holder called for a renewal of the ban on assault weapons -- he was only repeating a commitment Obama made during the presidential campaign -- the response from a group of 65 pro-gun House Democrats was: No way.

Their letter to Holder was absurd. "The gun-control community has intentionally misled many Americans into believing that these weapons are fully automatic machine guns. They are not. These firearms fire one shot for every pull of the trigger." Doesn't that make you feel better?

Those Democrats should sit down with Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania. "Time and time again, our police are finding themselves outgunned," Rendell said in Harrisburg last week. "They are finding themselves with less firepower than the criminals they are trying to bring to justice."

The Democratic governor told his own state's legislators that if they didn't support such a ban, "then don't come to those memorial services" for the victims of gun violence. "It's wrong," he said. "It's hypocritical."

And why can't we at least close the gun show loophole? Licensed dealers have to do background checks on people who buy guns. The rules don't apply at gun shows, which, as the Violence Policy Center put it, have become "Tupperware Parties for Criminals."


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