Miller Center

Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

Is this the Moment for Political Action on Gun Violence?

President Bill Clinton Address Gun Laws in his 2000 State of the Union Address in the wake of the Columbine, Colorado Tragedy.

In the wake of the tragedy in Newton, Connecticut, the nation could be poised for a more serious dialogue about gun violence. Even President Obama, who was reticent in the wake of the Aurora, Colorado shootings amidst the height of electioneering to risk losing swing voters, now seems more willing to engage in a national dialogue on preventing gun violence. On Sunday, President Obama traveled to Newton, Connecticut to address the community at an interfaith vigil. As he noted in his speech, it was the fourth time in his presidency that the nation has come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings. Indeed, according to a Mother Jones investigation, spree shootings like those in Newton, Aurora, Virginia Tech and Columbine have been on the rise in the United States (a less restrictive definition of mass shootings employed by James Allan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern, finds that there hasn’t been an increase). There have been at least 62 mass shootings in the past three decades, with 24 in the last seven years alone. In addition to these shootings, there have also been “an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children.” President Obama told the community:

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.

If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.

While the President refrained from advocating specific gun control laws, he noted:

In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.

In pressing for action, President Obama follows in the footsteps of his Democratic predecessors, though he has been more restrained thus far by refraining from advocating specific measures.