In the past decade, over 100,000 Americans were killed by guns. Be it violent crimes, robbery, gang shootings, intentional homicide, accidental homicide, suicide, and, more recently, terrorist acts, the proliferation of gun violence has reached unprecedented levels.
Whether the fervent attitude toward the right to gun ownership in America exacerbates this expanding use of firearms is a question best reserved for social analysts or anthropologists. What we do know though is that gun violence is expanding as the population grows, and mass shootings are now a daily occurrence.
Obama has made it his mission to combat gun violence. During his presidency, there have been several publicised and incredibly tragic mass-shootings.
The Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Aurora cinema tragedy, the San Bernardino terrorist shooting, the Charleston church shooting, and the 2011 shooting in Tucson Arizona which seriously injured a U.S Democratic congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords.
While moderate Americans, and indeed the rest of the developed world, have called for stricter gun control regulations, conservative Americans and Tea Party enthusiasts have argued that if the victims of gun crime had simply been armed, they would have been able to defend themselves.
The Second Amendment is taken very seriously in America, as is the entirety of the Bill of Rights. And understandably so – the Constitution and Revolutionary Wars were galvanised by grievances of the colonies which had been oppressed and unfairly governed by the British. The Founding Fathers not only set out the laws that would govern the US, but created the national psyche. The Second Amendment is an element of this national identity and its existence is a symbol of an American’s innate belief in the right to life and liberty.
Barack Obama has never attempted to remove this right, but recognises that an unchecked access to a deadly weapon is not practical. Each time a mass shooting occurs, he implores Congress to make it harder for clearly disturbed individuals to have access to war-grade firearms.
As the President enters the final year of his term, he has signed 23 Executive Actions that put the onus onto Congress to restrict access to these weapons. Background checks and waiting times have usually been laws administered by individual states, and therefore some states enjoy greater gun freedom than others. However, these executive actions recommend Universal Background checks, higher level of enforcement for flouting gun laws, and money for the mental health system.
While many conservative politicians and commentators have called this an ‘abuse of power’ by the President, Executive Actions are in fact in no way legally binding.
The Actions are merely the President directing Congress to do something, effectively putting the onus on Congress to act without abusing Executive power. Whether Congress listens or not is entirely up to its members.
The calls that Obama is ‘abusing’ power has sprung from the conflation of Executive Orders with Executive Actions.
Executive actions are informal proposals by the President. It is used to describe anything the President calls on Congress (or his Administration) to do. The proposals are not legally binding. These are usually used when a matter is controversial or sensitive, and the President does not want to risk putting lawmakers in either party offside.
Executive Orders, on the other hand, have the full force of the law.
Obama’s Executive Actions are toothless. They are a token gesture, emblematic of his actions during the last six years of his Presidency: stifled by partisanship.
Hillary Clinton, Obama’s anointed successor should the Democrats be re-elected, has nailed her colours to the mast on gun control. She has stated publicly: “More than 33,000 Americans are killed by guns each year. It’s time to act. As President, I'll take on the gun lobby and fight for common-sense reforms to keep guns away from terrorists, domestic abusers, and other violent criminals — including comprehensive background checks and closing loopholes that allow guns to fall into the wrong hands.”
Conversely, it would be rare for any Republican candidate to be tough on guns. The future of American gun violence hangs on the next elected President, but more importantly – the next elected Congress.
Each time the debate on gun control is brought into the American consciousness, and the citizenry is faced with the horrible reality of 26 Kindergarten children being shot at close range with a semi-automatic rifle – to describe just one atrocity – perhaps some sense can be brought to the conversation.
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