Out of the Woods / Obama starts to back his convictions
I was glad -- and I'm sure many other Westporters were, too -- to hear President Barack Obama vowing to seek a consensus on reducing gun violence in the wake of the recent mass shooting in a Colorado movie theatre. At the same time, his National Rifle Association-backed Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, predictably said America doesn't need new limits on firearms. Obama's comments were timely -- but not nearly as strong as they could have been
Obama, addressing a conference of the National Urban League in New Orleans last week, said the nation must finally find a solution to the frequent gun violence that "plagues so many cities." He repeated his support for reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons to keep them out of the hands of criminals. It's about time he brought up this controversial topic in the campaign.
Obama had called for the re-instatement of the ban during his 2008 presidential campaign and on Feb. 25, 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Obama administration would seek to reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 during the George W. Bush administration. But Obama has said little since about gun control.
The 10-year Federal Assault Weapons ban was passed by Congress on Sept. 13, 1994, and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton the same day. The ban only applied to weapons manufactured after the date of the ban's enactment. The ban expired on Sept. 13, 2004, as part of the law's sunset provision. There have been multiple attempts to renew the ban, but no bill has reached the floor for a vote.
To be frank, this observer was not at all certain that Obama would step up to the latest challenge to keep his promise. Even those of us who continue to support him for re-election have become somewhat disillusioned with his failure to speak out and fight vigorously for many of the legislative reforms he once so passionately trumpeted.
Ironically, his failure to communicate his accomplishments and his goals for a second term clearly and concisely -- over and over again -- has left him wide open for the Republicans to frame both him and his record negatively. Thus, he is now in the position of defending a good record of legislative accomplishments as if he were talking about them for the first time.
Further, all the inspiring rhetoric of his history-making campaign four years ago seems to have faded. In its place, we see a far more cautious, less dynamic, seemingly less self-confident president sending out e-mails to his followers practically begging for money. A case in point, I received the following e-mail on July 26:
"My upcoming [51st] birthday next week [Aug. 4]could be the last one I celebrate as President of the United States, but that's not up to me -- it's up to you. This July deadline is our most urgent yet, coming after two consecutive months of being significantly outraised by Romney and the Republicans. And if you pitch in $3 or whatever you can before midnight tonight, you and a guest will be automatically entered to join me at my birthday get-together next month. Thanks. Hope I'll see you soon. --Barack"
To be perfectly honest, I think this type of communication from the president of the United States does himself a disservice. He should not be telling his supporters that this birthday may be his last in the White House. I felt like returning his (obviously computer-generated) e-mail with something like this: "Hey, Mr. President. Stand tall. You've done as well as anyone could considering the circumstances of the past four years. You have a lot to be proud of. Say so. Set your own table. Don't let Romney and his hacks "swift boat" you like they did John Kerry."
Despite his comments to the Urban League, Obama was criticized by The New York Times editorial page last Friday, stating that the president's remarks "were disappointing because he fell far short of offering a solution even though he clearly demonstrated an understanding of the problem. His plan to address the problems appeared to consist of summer jobs for young people and crime reduction programs in cities -- perfectly fine ideas but much too weak to reduce the tools of urban bloodshed. [He] said nothing about closing the gun-show loophole."
"Mr. Obama spoke largely in platitudes. AK-47s should be in the hands of soldiers, not criminals, he said. Well, yes. . . The more pressing issue is the semiautomatic rifles like the extremely popular AR-15 in combination with high-capacity clips, used by the gunman in Aurora to fire multiple high-powered rounds at moviegoers."
President Obama appears to be on the way to showing the courage he did in 2008. But he better pick up his momentum and vigorously lay out a clear and compelling blueprint to improve the economy, if he is to be re-elected in November.
Post script: We asked Westport Police Chief Dale E. Hall how many people in Westport had pistol permits. His reply: "Our records (which date to 1990) indicate that there are 878 pistol permit-holders in town as of today."
With about 10,000 households in town, that's roughly one pistol permit for every 11.5 households.
Woody Klein is a Westport writer. His "Out of the Woods" appears every other Wednesday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.