Bipartisan consensus is urgently needed to address the widespread gun-violence. But how do we even take a first step in an increasingly polarized political climate?
Specific measures include:
- Requiring all firearm sellers to have a license and conduct background checks on buyers.
- Improving efforts to enforce current gun control laws.
- Including relevant mental health information in the background check system.
- Researching new technology to make firearms safer, such as fingerprint identification and tracking mechanisms for lost or stolen weapons.
Obama’s presentation was filled with pathos – he teared up when he mentioned gun-related shootings that took place in schools.
He is emotionally involved in this issue, he wants to make a difference, and his planned actions build on suggestions and ideas presented in the past from members of both parties.
Nevertheless, I became disheartened as I watched portions of his press conference.
Why? His tone during segments of his announcement was counterproductive if his aim was to build consensus and pursue compromise solutions.
He expressed frustration at the beginning that gun control had become a partisan political issue and emphasized that his goal was “to bring good people on both sides of this issue together for an open discussion.”
He added, “We can disagree without impugning other people’s motives or without being disagreeable.”
Yet, later comments came across as partisan, dismissive of those who might disagree with his views and suggested that his opponents failed to use common sense.
Comparing the need for research on gun control to that done to improve the safety of cars, food, medicine and toys, Obama said, “You know, research, science, those are good things, they work,” drawing laughter from those in attendance.
The implication was that his opponents don’t want to improve public safety regarding firearms and reject science and research as valid or relevant regarding gun control conversations.
Obama also said several times that he was offering “common sense” proposals, which implies that those who disagree with his ideas aren’t using common sense.
To his credit, the president cited examples of bipartisan gun control proposals with measures similar to his announced executive actions, yet the speech seemed to take an “us” versus “them” dichotomy throughout.
“The gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now but they cannot hold America hostage,” Obama declared, receiving a standing ovation, which presents himself and his supporters as the liberator of an oppressed people.
Even if he believes this to be the case, stating it in this context is only going to entrench folks in their positions, further hindering the possibility of bipartisan legislation.
The president’s actions are positive steps, but his speech seemed to be aimed at making the GOP look bad, using gun control as a pawn in a seemingly never-ending political chess game that prioritizes winning elections over pursuing bipartisan solutions.
As such, I was not surprised at the swift and largely negative GOP response.
In reality, gun control conversations are not ultimately about the Second Amendment and public safety.
These concepts have become talking points in a larger political game – symptoms of a widespread dysfunction in our political processes – in which a political party’s success in upcoming election cycles is the goal and the issues addressed are means to this end.
There is no denying that we have a problem with gun-related violence in the U.S., a reality the president rightly noted, “Every single year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns – 30,000.”
Actions must be taken, as most citizens and politicians will admit even though folks widely disagree on what should be done.
I grew up hunting. I inherited a number of guns from my grandfather when he died, which I still possess even though I haven’t hunted in more than a decade.
This has provided some insight into “hunting culture,” the expressed desire to protect the “right to bear arms” and the fear that some stoke among hunters that gun control is about the government trying to take away their weapons.
It is clear to me that these executive actions don’t infringe on the Second Amendment, that the goal is increased public safety not firearm confiscation, and that Obama is right to emphasize that “we can find ways to reduce gun violence consistent with the Second Amendment.”
I support the president’s initiatives and believe they are both positive and needed steps. Yet, I regret the tone of his speech, which will likely hinder the positive impact of his proposals and preclude the emergence of bipartisan legislation in Congress.
Facilitating change to address issues requires not only constructive ideas but also tactful presentations that build consensus to advance the common good – a reality to which the Bible speaks in counseling wise use of our tongues (for example, Proverbs 25:11-12, Psalm 141:3, Matthew 12:36-37, James 1:19).
A good first step is for our elected officials to remember that, more often than not, “It isn’t what you say, but how you say it” that matters.
Let’s give each other respectful space to reason together, to honor compromise, for the sake of preserving life and acknowledging rights.