Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Gun Violence Speech, Missing In Action

Decent folks must be allowed to sleep easy o'nights, mustn't they? Really it would be shockingly bad taste to linger on such details, that's common knowledge. But personally I've never been able to sleep well since then.

-Albert Camus, "The Plague," 1947

It was January 12, 2011, four days after six individuals were killed and 19 injured in just one murderous incident in Tucson, Arizona. People across the nation were shocked, saddened, and even in some cases, angry. A reflective and characteristically eloquent Barack Obama would travel to Tucson four days later and calm the collective nerves of the nation, drawing a parallel between the atrocity and the death of your 90-year old grandmother from natural causes:

As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let's use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together. (Applause.)

After all, that's what most of us do when we lose somebody in our family -- especially if the loss is unexpected. We're shaken out of our routines. We're forced to look inward. We reflect on the past: Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder. Did we express our gratitude for all the sacrifices that they made for us? Did we tell a spouse just how desperately we loved them, not just once in a while but every single day?

A couple of weeks later, MSNBC's Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, and Lawrence O'Donnell were previewing the upcoming State of the Union message (transcript, here) when the latter two expressed hope that the President later that evening would address the carnage in the U.S.A. Perhaps not "carnage," but a firearms death rate more than twice as great as that of any other nation.

Matthews informed his colleagues that the President would not be addressing gun rights or gun control that evening but assured them that he would do so in a later statement or speech which would address the issue separately (video, from Mediaite, here). Matthews did not reveal his source, though later it was learned that he had joined Wolf Blitzer, Diane Sawyer, Brian Williams, and George Stephanopoulos at lunch earlier that day.

Unsurprisingly, Maddow, Schultz, and O'Donnell were unable to comment, other than O'Donnell asking Matthews for clarification.

Three-and-a-half weeks later, O'Donnell was still angry at the lack of federal response and, evidently, had not been able to sleep well since Jared Loughner's rampage. In the "rewrite" segment of his program on February 9, the MSNBC host reminded us (video, from Crooks and Liars, below)

You just heard the NRA’s lie, now some facts. A Justice Department study on the federal assault weapons ban, which was law for 10 years found “Gun murders declined 10.3 percent in states without preexisting assault weapons bans.” 10.3 percent. Another study by the Justice Department in 2004 concluded “If the ban is lifted, gun and magazine manufacturers may reintroduce assault weapons models and large capacity magazines, perhaps in substantial numbers.”

And that is exactly what the merchants of death did; reintroduced assault weapons and the high capacity magazines that allowed Jared Loughner to take 31 shots, 31, before he had to stop and reload.

It has now been over six years since Congress allowed the assault weapons ban to expire, enabling a murderous individual to load his Glock 19 with 31 rounds of ammunition and start unloading them on other human beings. It has been over six weeks since President Obama, fond of "big things," responded by calling on Americans- most who have never ever been in Arizona- to consider whether "we've shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives (and) , whether our priorities are in order."

It has been nearly four weeks since the President ignored gun violence in his speech to the nation while he sent Chris Matthews out to the latter's liberal television viewers to assure them not to worry.

Once the nation's attention is fully turned not only from the violence in Tucson but also from Representative Giffords' recovery, once support for meaningful, responsible, even limited, gun control has ebbed, the President may speak. Once decent folks are able to sleep easily at night and the issue has lost any salience, then, perhaps, the President will come out and boldly proclaim his abhorrence of gun violence. In the meantime, the question begs to be asked: where is that speech, Mr. President?

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