In the aftermath of the horrific mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that took the lives of twenty young children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary school on December 14th, 2012, there has been an overwhelming outpouring of sympathy, grief, and support from people all over the United States and the world. Along with this flood of kindness, including a televised address from a teary-eyed President Obama and thousands of candlelight vigils held from Los Angeles to London, this tragedy has sparked rampant debate over many controversial issues regarding children’s safety in schools, mental illness, and most extensively—gun control.
The current gun control debate was encouraged by a speech given by President Obama. At an interfaith vigil in Newtown, just a few days after the shooting, he said, “No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society…but that can’t be an excuse for inaction.” He wrapped up the powerful and surprisingly aggressive speech saying that he would “use whatever power this office holds…aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.” Following that heart-wrenching night, he created a Gun Violence Task Force to be lead by Vice President Joe Biden to help create and adapt a plan for controlling gun violence and addressing its causes. And with that, politicians, lobbyists, and all types of government officials began to scramble to get their own plans together about what to do next.
The National Rifle Association (NRA), known for being, by far, the most powerful and outspoken pro-gun activist group, was unusually silent directly following the shooting at Sandy Hook. When NRA chief Wayne LaPierre finally spoke up at a press conference given on December 21st, 2012, he strongly advocated for increased gun usage saying, “I call on Congress to act immediately, to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school – and to do it now, to make sure that a blanket of safety is in place when our children return to school…” At the same time, he also formed the National School Shield Emergency Response Program to be headed by former congressman and former administrator for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Asa Hutchinson. The program would work on designing an “independent” protection program that could be deployed in schools across the United States.
After much deliberation and publicity, and many outspoken citizens proclaiming their opinions (like radio host Alex Johnson did on Piers Morgan’s January 7th episode, saying, “I’m here to tell you, 1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms”), President Obama, surrounded by elementary school children who wrote him letters about gun violence and control on January 16th, sat down to sign 23 executive orders outlining and enacting his gun control plan. His plan has five major areas in which he is proposing Congress execute legislation: background checks for all gun sales (and making more data available for the federal background check system); reinstating the ban on high capacity magazines (which would limit them to 10 rounds); reinstating and adding to the 1994 assault weapons ban; increasing the penalty for those who sell guns to criminals; and nominating a permanent director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. In order to instate these policies, President Obama is asking Congress to allocate $4.5 billion dollars, which will also go to support related reform measures such as improving mental health research and law enforcement.
Reactions to this plan have been widespread and extreme from legislators and the general public on both the left and the right. In a speech given on January 23rd, the NRA chief responded to this plan by saying that the required background checks before buying a gun were outrageous, saying, “there are only two reasons for that federal list of gun owners: to tax them or take them.” Republican legislators were more moderate in their responses, although not many supported the president’s plan. In a statement to CBS News, Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., said “there has to be something done,” but that he believes the first priority should be enforcing current laws, and that “the assault weapons ban, the magazine limitations does not solve the problem of gun crime.” Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., also doesn’t think the president’s plan has much of a chance getting through Congress, saying that “the president’s just making a political move and it’s a shame that he’s using this situation for political reasons.”
Democratic legislators had more positive responses, although they intended to make revisions to the plan as well. In response to Obama’s plan, Senate majority leader Harry Reid said that he believes it may have the chance to pass in the Senate, but it would absolutely fail in the House of Representatives. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has announced her own gun control plan which she hopes to pass through Congress. It also proposes renewing the 1994 assault weapons ban, which includes banning 158 semi-automatic weapons and all high-capacity magazines. It also amends the original bill to allow certain types of hunting guns and allows it to “grandfather in” older weapons. It would also create a national gun owner registry, among other things. According to CBS news, however, this plan has little chance of making it through either the Senate or the House.
Despite all the back-and-forth between politicians and law makers, it is clear U.S. citizens want action. A CBS News poll taken last week said that 6 in 10 Americans support tougher gun laws, and although it is difficult for everyone to agree on the details, according to an ABC-Washington Post poll 53% of Americans support President Obama’s plan. It is hard to know what to expect in the coming days, aside from a lot of arguing, but all we can hope for is that the legislators will be able to set aside their differences and come to some sort of compromise for the good and safety of American children and our schools, and soon.
-Katie Mills is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.