In the wake of the Tucson shootings, President Obama implores us to do as our parents taught
President Obama’s speech in Tucson a week ago was welcome salve to a nation torn up by the bullets fired in that supermarket parking lot and the ensuing food fights that commenced in the media before the ambulance jellybeans had even stopped spinning.
By his appearance in Arizona, the president acknowledged that this was not a local event but a national tragedy. Our own mayor, Stephanie Miner, who had befriended Gabrielle Giffords long before Giffords was a congresswoman and Miner a mayor, feels the pain of her friend’s wounds. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a frequent visitor to Syracuse, was in the room when Giffords opened her eyes for the first time after the shooting. This assassination attempt strikes at our hearts because, unlike the shootings of King and the Kennedys, the gunman took the life of a child. Anyone who has ever watched a 9-year-old smile cannot help but take it personally.
So in every president’s role as comforterin-chief, Obama rose to the occasion and called on us to honor the deceased and the survivors by treating one another better. That such a simple request is necessary and newsworthy tells us all we need to know about how loud and nasty things have gotten.
“At a time when our discourse,” said President Obama, “has become so sharply polarized—at 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 do—it’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.”
We shouldn’t mistake the call to change the tone and lower the volume with a suggestion that we shy away from substance. There are many genuinely divisive issues that need to be addressed, issues that were here before the Tucson assault.
One such issue is the dramatic divide in America with regard to the possession of weapons like the one used to wound Gaby Giffords and kill the six others the president honored so eloquently. Listen to what another president had to say on gun violence in the wake of another national tragedy perpetrated by a deranged loner with a gun.
“What in the name of conscience will it take,” said Lyndon Johnson in an address to the nation just after Sen. Robert Kennedy was shot, “to pass effective gun control legislation?” That was in 1968, 12 years before the Glock semiautomatic pistol was invented. Those words were not spoken by a liberal northeastern urbanite politician, but by the man who had represented Texas in the U.S. Senate.
People can differ over the effectiveness of various forms of gun control while we examine and discard some of the pretexts used by defenders of unbridled gun possession rights. One of their arguments is that guns make us safer because we can use them in self-defense.
Ask a cop whether having a semiautomatic in your pocket or in your home makes you safer, and they will laugh at you. I once asked our police chief flat out if he could tell me of a case in which someone with a gun defended himself successfully in our town, and he could not name one time. But we can name any number of times when semiautomatic handguns have been used to kill and maim.
The Glock, in its various permutations, and the other brands of semiautomatic pistols, are the preferred service revolvers for many police departments. New York City’s finest uses them. The New Jersey state troopers use them. The biggest single consumer of the Glock 19, it turns out, is the Iraqi Security Forces, those we have trained and armed to keep the peace in that turbulent country.
Cops like them because they like to have the advantage over the bad guys. If Glocks are so easily imported and distributed, and find their way on to the street, they raise the stakes when criminals turn to crime. You don’t have to challenge a hunter’s right to bear arms to agree that these nasty weapons, like the cars we drive, need to be regulated.
In our city, after we watched a slow-motion bloodbath of our own this fall, the response was to do everything from billboards to buybacks to get those guns off the street. As an example to the nation, it can’t hurt.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in The New Times. Contact him at email@example.com.