The horrific mass killing of elementary schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut has served as another reminded that the United States is an unusually violent country. And the evidence is overwhelming that lax regulations of private firearms plays a major role in this unnecessarily high rate of violent death. And yet, it is very unlikely that any federal legislation will be passed in response to the Newtown killings, let alone regulations comparable to those in other liberal democracies.
In the president’s first term, a gauntlet of procedural hurdles stood in the way of progressive change. As Majority Leader Harry Reid promises to reform the filibuster—on the magical day when the new Senate convenes and can make new rules—most progressives are wondering whether it’s an end to many of President Barack Obama’s problems. After all, without the constant threat of a filibuster, Senate Democrats wouldn’t have had to scramble for votes from the centrists who watered down health-care legislation and stalled action on climate change in Obama’s first two years, when he had an outright majority in the Senate.
He’s back. Larry Summers is running hard to succeed Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve when Bernanke’s term expires in early 2014. This is not a great idea, for three main reasons. The first is Summers’ famous temperament. The problem is not just that he’s less than sensitive to women. It’s that he’s a bully in general, cocksure of himself, using others as foils and prevailing by controlling the agenda.
There are some serious, perhaps insurmountable obstacles to any new gun-safety measures being passed through Congress. Specifically, the House of Representatives is controlled by Republicans, and nearly all of them have been endorsed by the National Rifle Association. Those endorsements didn't come for nothing; they're an acknowledgement of past service and a warning against future heresy. And as the GOP has grown more Southern and rural in recent years, the NRA's grip has only tightened.
We're about to start the portion of this debate where we actually begin discussing specific actins the government might take to address gun violence. And as we do, particularly when it comes to those measures that concern the guns themselves (as opposed to measures focused on the people who can get them or the conditions of their purchase), it's likely that gun advocates will start complaining that there's a problem with all these effete urban northeastern liberals making laws governing guns they know nothing about. This isn't new; for instance, gun advocates have long hated the term "assault weapon," since it doesn't really mean anything in particular (after all, every gun is a weapon designed for assault).
We should be very wary of the argument that people who have a lot of experience with guns have some kind of greater moral claim to a voice in this debate (and we should also be wary, as Elsbeth Reeve writes, of coastal urbanite conservatives claiming to speak for "real America" about guns). Yes, having everyone get their facts straight is important. But every one of us is potentially affected by guns, whether we ever bother to pick one up or not. That's kind of the whole point. You don't have to know how to disassemble and clean a Glock to want your kid not to be shot by one.
The optics of Susan Rice’s withdrawal from consideration for secretary of State are disheartening. Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post and Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio attributed racism and sexism to the campaign against Rice, with Marcus writing that “the attack had something to do with Rice’s gender, and her sharp elbows and sometimes sharper tongue,” while Fudge said “[Republican senators] have never called a male 'unqualified,' 'not bright,' 'not trustworthy,' …there is a clear sexism and racism that goes with these comments.”
AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Christian Gooden
Every mass shooting, there’s a brief flare-up of discussion about gun control, followed by an inevitable dropping of the subject as liberals give up hope that anything can be done about guns when conservatives control the discourse so thoroughly. It’s become so predictable that even lamenting the process has in itself become a cliché. The notion that owning semi-automatic assault rifles that can shoot off six rounds a second is a “right” has become so embedded that many people, including our president, have calculated that it’s fruitless to even try to start drafting legislation that would restrict the sale of such weapons.
Once again, President Obama seems to be on the verge of folding a winning hand. Widely leaked reports indicate that the president and House Speaker John Boehner are making a fiscal deal that includes hiking tax rates back to the pre-Bush levels with a threshold of $400,000 rather than the original $250,000, and cutting present Social Security benefits. Obama, the reports say, will now settle for as little as $1.2 trillion in tax increases on the rich rather than the $1.6 trillion that he had originally sought. The difference, in effect, will come out of the pockets of workers, retirees, the young, and the poor.
It's safe to say that we've had more of a national discussion about guns in the last four days than we've had in the last fifteen years. The particular measures to address gun violence that are now in the offing run from those that are well-intended but likely to be ineffectual (renewing the assault weapons ban, for instance) to some that could have a more meaningful effect even if they're difficult to implement (universal background checks, licensing, and training). But the most useful change that may come out of this moment in our history is a change in the way we look at guns.
By that I don't mean that Americans will suddenly stop fetishizing guns, or that everyone will agree they're nothing but trouble. But if we're lucky, perhaps we could come to an agreement on something simple. Yes, our constitution guarantees that people can own guns, much as many of us wish it didn't. But even in the context of that freedom, we should be able to agree that guns are different. The freedom to own guns is different from other freedoms, and guns are different from other products. A sane society should be able to acknowledge that difference and use it to guide the choices it makes.
Since their across-the-board defeat in November, Republicans have talked a great game about reform and outreach, with presidential hopefuls Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, and Bobby Jindal leading the charge. But the actual actions of the GOP belie this stated commitment to change. According to National Journal, for example, Republicans are planning a big push to change how states distribute their electoral votes.
President Obama wipes away a tear as he discusses the shooting in Newtown.
Up until now, Barack Obama's record on guns has been one of the biggest disappointments for his liberal supporters. In his first term he signed two laws on guns, one allowing people to take their guns into national parks, and one allowing people to take their guns on Amtrak trains. But now there are some hints that the administration may be open to some modest measures to reduce the easy availability of some of the deadliest means of killing large numbers of people at one time. In particular, we could see a renewal of some version of the assault weapons ban that was in place from 1994 to 2004. That law used a somewhat complicated flow chart of features to define an assault weapon, and also banned magazines that held more than 10 rounds. A ban on high-capacity magazines may be the easiest thing to pass today, because it's not hard to define and they are almost impossible to justify for any purpose other than killing people.
The easy argument against any new law, and one we'll certainly be hearing, is "That wouldn't have stopped Adam Lanza." And that's probably true. If someone is determined enough and takes enough time to plan, they can kill lots and lots of people. But the point of our policy shouldn't be solely to make sure that nobody ever shoots up a school again, it should be to reduce the appalling death toll that guns bring to our society. If the horror of 20 murdered children in Connecticut is the thing that leads us to finally attempt to do something about the 30,000 Americans who are killed with guns every year, then it will be fine if the next set of policies isn't focused on preventing precisely that kind of massacre.
We'll only do something meaningful if we think in the broadest of terms.
If you ever have the chance, you should visit Newtown, Connecticut, a “picture-postcard place in New England, especially in the fall.” Or so urges Sperling’s Best Places to Raise Your Family, which included the town among its 100 best spots to have kids, ranking it among the top ten where you could “keep your door unlocked.” The guide book for families looking for the ideal hometown also notes that Newtown is among its top ten of its 100 picks in terms of having a high percentage of households—44—that have an annual household income above $100,000 per year.
The Michigan legislature’s lame duck session is only three weeks long, but the state house didn't need more than 18 hours to move the state sharply to the right. During a marathon session Thursday and Friday, the state house passed a variety of very conservative bills on issues from abortion to gun control to taxes. You can’t say they’re not efficient. The state, which favored Obama by 9 points and has long been home to a moderate-progressive movement, may now have a set of laws that puts it on America’s more conservative end.
It’s almost midnight and my seven-year-old is finally asleep. Tonight, she and I had the usual arguments about her taking a bath, about when she would go to bed; as it happens I’ve been a single dad the last several days, so we’ve argued more than usual. Two days ago was her Christmas play at school, at eight in the morning when her second-grade class sang, “All I Want for Christmas Is a Hippopotamus,” and it wasn’t until I was back in the car afterward that I heard on the radio about Sandy Hook. By the time I got to lunch there was nothing else on the news. It would be an overstatement to suggest that all of the restaurant had come to a stop, but certainly it arrested the attention of many, some of the waiters stopping to watch the TV over the bar when the president came on. From where I sat, I could see the TV but not hear it; I saw the president brush something from one eye as though there was something in it, and only when I saw him brush the other eye did I know for sure that this wasn’t something I had seen him do before.
In the wake of Friday’s gruesome tragedy, in which a presumably mentally ill shooter killed 26 Americans in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut—including 20 children between the ages of six and seven—it has never been more evident that our nation’s gun laws are in desperate need of reform.Thanks to years of relentless propaganda by the National Rifle Association (NRA) the American people no longer care much for the phrase "gun control," but they do support specific policy proposals in overwhelming numbers. For example, swing-state exit-polling data from the 2012 election indicates that 90 percent of gun owners support requiring background checks on all gun sales, including private sales. Republican pollster Frank Luntz has conducted additional surveys showing broad support for common-sense gun laws even among NRA members.