Polman: Obama reform vs Republican fealty
Why do Republicans nauseatingly refuse to address America's gun murder epidemic? Why are they so determined to sustain our well-earned reputation as the most violent nation in the civilized Western world? Why are they jerking their knees in reflexive opposition to President Obama's modest attempts to defend our right to remain alive?
Of course we know why. It's Obama hatred and gun lobby love.
You would think, judging by their tiresomely predictable reactions, that Obama is poised to dispatch an army of flying monkeys to swoop into American homes and spirit away the 270,000,000 guns that we apparently hold dear.
But this fever swamp rhetoric is flatly contradicted by reality. Obama is basically tweaking existing gun laws to make them work better. Which is exactly what Republicans have been urging all along.
For instance, the federal background check system is notoriously understaffed and under-financed. Under federal law, if the FBI can't complete a check within three days, the buyer gets his gun without the check having been completed. That's what happened last year in Charleston, South Carolina. Remember the white racist terrorist who killed nine people at the historic black church? He got his gun because the understaffed feds didn't obtain his criminal record within the mandated three days.
So Obama is beefing up the background-check system — directing more money and manpower to weed out the criminals and mentally ill. Plus, he's earmarking an extra $500 million to mental-health services, to better help those who have woes between their ears.
Yet the Republicans don't like any of that.
Obama also took action to close loopholes in existing laws — most notably, the one that allows people to buy guns, without any background screening, from private sellers and online sellers. Isn't it logical to tweak existing laws so that everybody gets screened prior to buying bang-bangs? The American public certainly thinks so; according to the latest Quinnipiac poll, 89 percent support background checks for private and online buyers.
The Republicans don't want any of that, either.
Requiring shippers to report stolen guns — that makes sense, too. Investing in advanced technology so that kids can't accidentally pull gun triggers — that makes sense, too. And yet, not a single Republican has spoken up to say, hey, that's a good idea.
Instead, all we got was the usual pap, plus a lot of whining about Obama's alleged kingly behavior. They're basically complaining that Obama is doing end-runs around the Republican Congress, somehow forgetting that the Republican Congress is invested in doing the gun lobby's business by doing nothing. Just last month, in fact, it squashed a bill designed to beef up background checks.
Kathleen Parker — the center-right political columnist, no friend of Obama's — says it well: "In fairness to the gun lobby, which may not deserve such charity, one can understand reservations about limiting access to guns. What is less easily understood is the refusal of Republicans to take the reins of any given issue and do something constructive rather than invariably waiting to be forced into the ignoble position of 'no.' It is one thing to be in the pocket of the National Rifle Association. It is another to do nothing and then assume a superior posture of purposeful neglect, as though do-nothingness were a policy and smug intransigence a philosophy."
Can Obama's executive actions substantially curb our annual gun murder epidemic? No way. We have too many guns in circulation for that to happen. He freely acknowledged that on Tuesday, saying, "We know we can't stop every act of violence, every act of evil in the world. But maybe we could try to stop one act of evil, one act of violence."
There it is — the desire to save at least a few of the lives that would otherwise be lost. Doing something to dent the death toll sure beats thoughts 'n' prayers.
Or to paraphrase the Talmud, "He who saves a single life, saves the world entire."
Dick Polman is a national political columnist and a "Writer in Residence" at the University of Philadelphia.