President leads voices of sanity against vitriolic commentators
February 1, 2011
by Joseph P. Tartaro
President Barack Obama has not been praised very oftenif ever beforein these pages, but he deserves our respect and plaudits for the powerful and effective speech he delivered in Arizona just days after the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the slaughter of six other people and the wounding of 14.
His speech came a few days after pundits, politicians, political cartoonists and poltroons flooded newspapers, radio, television, the Internet and so-called web social media with venom and vituperation as they jockeyed for public attention. The veteran anti-gunners saw a rare opportunity and began to discuss new gun control initiatives and the revival of others long since forgotten just hours after the shootings.
One of the most absurd of these schemes was the proposal that a 1,000-feet “gun free” zone be created around all public officeholders. Besides being totally unworkable and impractical, the idea that every politician goes through every day surrounded by an imaginary 1,000-feet bubble of safety is impossible. How would the average citizen, armed or not, know who is an elected official and who is not, so they could stay away if armed. My daughter Peggy, who works at Gun Week and Women & Guns, suggested a way. They could all wear purple togas, she suggested, so that we would all know that we should stay 1,000 feet away from them.
But the “gun free” politician zone was far from the worst thing suggested. To my mind the worst was that we should abolish the First Amendment for anyone we disagree with. People on the left blamed just about everyone on the right of the political spectrum for the aberrant behavior of a mentally disturbed individual. Some of the people who wrote or spoke such extremist nonsense must have been foaming at the mouth and in need of psychological counseling themselves at the time they wrote or spoke their vitriol.
That is not to say that some on the right didn’t engage in some of the same “I didn’t do it, Mom, he/she it did it” harangues.
Fortunately, President Obama parted the waters of hyperactive partisanship when he spoke in Tuscon.
Not all establishment media focused on the heightened level of acidity in public commentary these days and in the sheer nastiness and hatefulness of modern political campaign ads. The acid has always been bubbling in print media, but it seems to have boiled over when it hit broadcast talk shows and the Internet, where anything seems to go.
National Review Online carried a very sober and informative interview with John Lott, the economics professor who has written and revised More Guns=Less Crime. The New York Times even printed an op-ed commentary by Lott. The Wall Street Journal and a number of other lesser known newspapers also tried to dampen the hysteria of blame which drove so many of those in the news industry.
Steve Chapman, a columnist and member of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board who blogs at chicagotribune.com/chapman, put the political situation into a rational perspective, saying that “ineffectual solutions abound.”
“It has been a dismal decade for gun-control advocates,” Chapman wrote. “They lost the federal so-called assault weapons ban when it expired in 2004. The US Supreme Court made history by proclaiming an individual has a right to own firearms for self-defense. A Democratic president came into office vowing not to take away anyone’s guns.
“So it’s no surprise that anti-gun forces would take the mass shooting … in Tucson, Ariz., as a rare opportunity to reverse their fortunes. It’s also no surprise that their proposals are models of futility.
“Gun control has faltered mainly because it hasn’t worked. And nothing in the new recommendations offers hope of success,” Chapman noted.
Then, a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey, taken the nights of Jan. 10 and 11 found that only 29% of adults think stricter gun control laws would help prevent shootings like the one in Arizona. Sixty-two percent (62%) disagree and say stronger gun control would not make a difference.
Among those who have a gun in their household, 76% say stricter gun control laws would not help, a view shared by a plurality (48%) of those without a gun in the house.
Despite the Tucson tragedy, opposition to gun control is at a new high. Thirty-six percent (36%) say the United States needs stricter gun control laws, but 56% don’t share that belief and oppose stronger anti-gun laws. Previously, opposition to more gun control has ranged from a high of 51% in July of last year to a low of 37% in April 2007 following the killings at Virginia Tech.
The President’s approach was just the right medicine for a media-made psychosis engendered by the shooting and the associated political rush of the anti-gunners. He offered the public reassurance.
He took time out to mention not just Rep. Giffords and Judge John Roll and nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green but all of the victims, giving comfort to all of their friends and families, as well as the nation.
He also took time to single out and praise the four people who disarmed and subdued the shooter, and the first responders on the scene. His approach was an exercise in decency as well as statesmanship.
“These men and women remind us that heroism is found not only on the fields of battle,” Obama said. “They remind us that heroism does not require special training or physical strength. Heroism is here, all around us, in the hearts of so many of our fellow citizens, just waiting to be summonedas it was on Saturday morning.
“Their actions, their selflessness, also pose a challenge to each of us. It raises the question of what, beyond the prayers and expressions of concern, is required of us going forward. How can we honor the fallen? How can we be true to their memory?
“You see,” he continued, “when a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanationsto try to impose some order on the chaos, and make sense out of that which seems senseless. Already we’ve seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems. Much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.”
The President went on to suggest a future course of calm, reasoned debate and civility.
“But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarizedat a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we doit’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.
“Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, ‘when I looked for light, then came darkness.’ Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.”
Other people have expressed the same ideas as the President, often in other, simpler words, but stuff does happen, and reason beats hysteria any day. The President set the right tone for our democratic republic at a difficult time, and may lead the march to reasoned discourse.
I wish I could say that the President had stilled the voices of the blabbermouths, but, unfortunately, judging from what I saw on the Internet just two days after his speech, not everyone got the message.
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