Children become ammunition in debate
Q Does the US need more guns in its schools?
Flanked by four children from across the country, President Barack Obama set up the first major fight of his second term and unveiled a plan to curb gun violence through an extensive package of legislation and executive actions on Wednesday. America will “be judged” by guns, he said. The reaction from the gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association, was fiery.
Failed presidential candidate and governor of Texas Rick Perry said the focus should be mental health, not “using” the Newtown massacre to “further a political cause”. Steve Stockman, a prominent Republican also from Texas, who threatened to impeach the president, compared his “use” of children to former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s tactics.
Mayors take stance
Even New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, a leading figure in the political action committee Mayors against Illegal Guns, conceded that most of Obama’s measures would fail to make it through Congress – with the exception of mandating universal background checks for all gun purchases. Currently only licenced gun dealers must perform background checks, while other sellers, like vendors at gun shows, who account for 40 per cent of gun purchases each year, do not.
A new Pew poll confirms that the gun lobby is more politically active then its gun control counterparts. Since the Newtown massacre, just over a month ago, groups like the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for arms manufacturers, are training or arming makeshift guards at schools. A new national holiday was dedicated to firearms: thousands of gun enthusiasts celebrated the inaugural Gun Appreciation Day on Saturday by flocking to shooting ranges and gun retailers to stock up on their “Second Amendment right”.
The text of the Second Amendment, as ratified by Thomas Jefferson in 1791, reads: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
Slaves to ideology
Most advocates say the federal government should leave firearms regulation to state legislation. “It’s an ideological problem – we don’t want to be slaves to the ideology which is letting the federal government control us,” Clark Aposhian, one of Utah’s leading gun instructors, told The Irish Times.
Vice-president Joe Biden defended White House intentions on Thursday, answering critics who said the plan potentially infringes on Second Amendment rights.
“I own two guns,” Biden told reporters. “We just don’t want rent-a-cops in schools armed.”
Among Obama’s 23 “executive actions” to tighten US gun regulation, number 18 states: “Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.”
This is a measure similar to the gun lobby’s campaign to arm school officials, with one crucial difference, the arming of trained law enforcement officers rather than teachers or makeshift guards.
The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teacher union, and gun control groups like Sandy Hook Promise backed this White House proposal.