The president of the United States and the mayor of the District of Columbia both used this week to address violence within the sphere of their responsibilities. And they are catching flak for it.
President Obama’s focus was on the weapons that now kill as many people as car accidents and on the need for gun-control measures. He said at the White House on Tuesday: “Every single year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns — 30,000. Suicides. Domestic violence. Gang shootouts. Accidents.” And he added this grabber: “In 2013 alone, more than 500 people lost their lives to gun accidents — and that includes 30 children younger than 5 years old.”
The next day, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) went to the city’s Eastern Market Metro station to announce the formation of a task force to combat gun robberies, which last year increased to 1,249, 10 percent more than the 1,112 recorded in 2014. This year isn’t off to a good start — 25 gun robberies in the first six days of 2016. Robberies without guns numbered 28.
Yet robberies aren’t the only crime on the rise in our nation’s capital. Last year ended with 162 murders. There were 105 in 2014.
Something, however, may get lost in these numbers. How can the toll taken by death be measured with any degree of accuracy? It’s impossible to quantify the sense of loss and grief that follows; the sadness, emptiness and loneliness that death leaves behind.
The families and friends of those 30,000 people whose lives were cut short by guns may have some idea.
The damage isn’t limited to gun deaths.
What is the impact of more than 3,000 total street robberies in a city? Gauge the distress of having possessions taken by force — imagine the fear, anger, insecurity and unwanted memories that robbery leaves behind.
The violence assailed by Obama and Bowser is disturbing. So is the opposition mounted against them for trying to do something about it.
Criticism of Obama’s proposed regulations to ensure that laws on the books are enforced as written and intended is sickening. Unlike the “he’s gonna take away your guns” rhetoric coming out the mouths of some gun enthusiasts and their sycophantic Republican presidential hopefuls, Obama’s plan to reduce gun violence is light stuff. It would:
● Require all those in the business of selling firearms to be licensed and to conduct background checks.
● Overhaul the FBI’s background check system to make it more efficient and effective and provide the bureau with more staff.
● Beef up staffing of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to crack down on firearms trafficking.
● Increase funding for mental-health treatment and mental-health reporting to the background check system and direct the departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security to pursue research into gun-safety technology.
Several law professors who looked at the constitutionality of Obama’s executive actions said that they “ensure robust enforcement of the law” and are “entirely compatible with the will of Congress and the President’s constitutional authority.”
But listen to the resisters.
“Obama wants your guns,” says Ted Cruz’s campaign website.
Obama is “making an end-run around the Constitution” to “restrict one of the basic, fundamental principles of our country,” Donald Trump’s campaign manager told CNN.
“Just one more way to make it harder for law-abiding people to buy weapons to be able to protect their families,” said Marco Rubio on Fox News.
“Obama’s executive orders trample on the 2nd Amendment,” said a Jeb Bush tweet.
Obama “is advancing his political agenda,” a Ben Carson tweet said.
Forget about saving lives. Better to save political hides from National Rifle Association attacks.
The president’s proposals should triumph over demagoguery and plain stupidity. But don’t cut the gun lobby short. Fear of NRA money and power makes cowards out of congressmen.
The local climate for reform may not be any better.
This is a city where many people are afraid to venture out of their homes after dark, where going to and from school can be hazardous and where guns — and those who would use them — seem as plentiful as the air.
In August, Bowser proposed a public safety plan to combat the violence. She contended that if the D.C. Council had adopted her proposals — more money for more cops in high-crime areas, stiffer penalties for crimes on buses and subway trains and in D.C. parks, cracking down on repeat offenders — last year’s jump in homicides might have been avoided.
But Bowser is at loggerheads with key council members over the direction of crime-fighting and criminal justice reforms. And so? Nothing. Handwringing, finger-pointing . . .
Obama, urging action, cited the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words “the fierce urgency of now,” because people are dying. “The constant excuses for inaction,” the president declared, “no longer suffice.”
Even as national and D.C. lawmakers turn a deaf ear to that message.
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