This weekend’s events in Aurora, Colorado are tragic, senseless, and, I think, should make us all very angry on two fronts.
Where are our cultural leaders daring to speak out about the glorification of violence that, in deeply sad irony, was on the screen as backdrop to the killing and wounding. Dark Knight is only one, the latest, of a long line of films, videos, and “games” that trivialize the pain and destruction that guns inflict, in some subtle way making us all feel that gun-play is normal and even fun. While we may not be able or want to “ban” such violence, we don’t have to culturally aggrandize it…the commentary in the entertainment news about how much Dark Knight’s first weekend box-office take was going to be now leaves me feeling sick. I understand and support the notion of freedom of expression involved here, but we don’t have to permit the manufacturers to promote violence as entertainment. Just like it’s now illegal for tobacco to advertise in most media, we could make the advertisement of gratuitously violent fiction subject to considerably more stringent limitation. But even more important, our cultural leaders (high among them being our 24/7 media) can help to make that violence very “uncool”…just like most young children these days find smoking a nasty, anti-social act. It takes time, and leadership, but it’s not impossible to gradually change mentality on this.
And where are our political leaders, at all levels of government, calling for us to do something more…maybe much more…about the accessability of these deadly weapons. That the Aurora murderer apparently acquired his arsenal of guns and ammunition and explosive devices legally is eloquent in its condemnation of our existing legal restrictions. These situations are of course the work of insane people…but people who did not display their deadly insanity in advance to put the world on notice. the University of Texas Tower sniper, Columbine, Viginia Tech, and now Aurora quickly come to mind and in each of these, and far too many others, the insane person was able to wreak so much death and destruction because of guns. If we can’t prevent the work of madmen, at least we can make it much more difficult for them to do so much harm.
Today, President Obama visited the wounded and consoled many of the families of those who lost their lives. As always, he spoke with passion and moved us with his calls for recovery from this sadness and his confidence in the goodness of the American people. But I was greatly disappointed that he didn’t take this ocassion to move beyond the role of Consoler in Chief. I hoped for, and even half-expected, him to move from that tone to close on a tone of righteous anger, saying something to this effect:
“It is now time…it is now way past time…to get serious about truly effective gun control in this country. That the shooter in this tragedy acquired his weapons “legally” tells us there is something terribly wrong with what is “legal” in our land. I know of course that there is Constitutional protection for the use and possession of firearms, but I also know that the Second Amendment has important limiting language about “a well-regulated militia…”as the basis for that protection, and our Constitution embraces many compromises and balancing acts. The current situation regarding guns is clearly out of balance.
I am aware of all the arguments against more effective gun control;some of them have some merit. But overall, I believe the American people are no longer convinced. I believe the American people are ready to strike a new balance. I believe the American people should hold all their leaders accountable to make significant improvements in public safety from gun violence. The right to expect that public safety is at least as important as the many other rights our governments go to great lengths to protect. We’ve fallen far too short here. We must make this better!
I pledge the balance of my term as President…and my next term if the people give it to me…to do everything I can to lead Congress to enact legislation and to insist that every department of my Administration does everything in its power to reduce this blight on our country. For example, I will redeploy some of Homeland Security’s TSA army to help prevent this horrible domestic terrorism which has done so much more harm to our country than any foreign terrorists have been able to accomplish. If it takes a Constitutional amendment… and it might…I pledge to you that I will do everything I can to bring that about.”
Alas, he didn’t say that or anything like it. That leaves it to Governor Romney to depart from the agenda of one slice…maybe a small one… of what people identify as his “base”. The American people are, I’m convinced, ready for some brave leadership on this issue. Like Johnson on the Civil Rights legislation, like Nixon in his opening to China, like Clinton on welfare reform, it may take the perceived tribune of the status quo to achieve a real breakthrough. Please Mr. Romney, be your own man; do the right thing…even if it does cost you the prospect of being elected. You may just be surprised. There are many people out there, at every point of the political spectrum, hungry for a man of principle to step forward on this. Be that man!