When the Supreme Court in 2008 affirmed that the Second Amendment was a right for individuals, candidate Obama praised the decision. His statement from them read, in part: “As president, I will uphold the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun-owners, hunters and sportsmen. I know that what works in Chicago may not work in Cheyenne. We can work together to enact common-sense laws, like closing the gun show loophole and improving our background check system, so that guns do not fall into the hands of terrorists or criminals.”
Despite the red-hot rhetoric of gun-rights advocates whose fundraising appeals paint Obama as a gun-grabbing despot, this president’s views on gun control have scarcely differed from those of his Republican predecessor.
Even when an early 2011 shooting by a deranged gunman killed six and wounded another 13 people, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., the president resisted legislation that might prevent future tragedies. Thus, it’s likely in the aftermath of Friday’s shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater that Obama will not spend much, if any, of his political capital seeking to make it harder for the mentally unstable to purchase a firearm.
The suspected gunman who shot up a midnight screening of the latest Batman movie is believed to have been packing four weapons — an assault rifle, a shotgun and two pistols, according to a federal official speaking to the Associated Press on background.
James Holmes, 24, the man suspected in the shooting, was in police custody Friday. Very little is known about Holmes or his motives for this senseless act of violence. Of course, no one in his right mind would set off smoke bombs in a crowded movie theater and proceed to fire at will while wearing a protective flak jacket and gas mask.
Whoever killed and/or injured 50 souls early Friday morning had no business possessing a firearm. All sides of the nation’s political equation can agree with that. The tricky part is devising laws that can make it more difficult for the mentally unbalanced or criminally violent from purchasing weapons.
As is often the case, the extremes get it wrong. A tougher background check on purchasers of firearms isn’t a slippery slope toward a totalitarian state. On the other side, a stricter law on who can purchase weapons isn’t a magic solution. People with violent intentions will still find a way to arm themselves, even with more stringent laws.
A more mature nation would be ready for this discussion. Of course, it would be best if it were carried out in a time not directly after a mass shooting. Our political leaders offered compassion and words of healing Friday, a worthy exercise on a day where hearts are weighed down with sadness. However, when passions cool, those same politicians have a responsibility to lead a national discussion on making it more difficult for the unstable to purchase firearms.