Obama Cares

Darcy Coombs

Finally, it happened.

On the sixth of January 2016, in his final year as Commander in Chief, President Obama announced an executive order to increase gun control measures throughout the USA.

It was common sense. It was essential. But, unfortunately, it was not inevitable.

Despite ninety per cent of Americans supporting increased gun control measures nationwide, the original bill died on the Senate floor in April 2013, failing to secure the required vote.

In this sense, gun control became an issue of politics for all the wrong reasons. One theory suggests that the National Rifle Association (NRA) has lobbied extensively to instil fear into Senate members, claiming that a vote for gun control would have severe political consequences.

This is ironic, particularly when three-quarters of NRA members support universal background checks.

A leader in a democratic society should lead from a utilitarian stance; that is, to always aim at benefiting the majority. When the majority of Americans, gun and non-gun owners, demonstrated support for these measures and Congress failed to cooperate, what other choice did the President have? In a sense, he would be failing to uphold the interests of his nation had he not gone forth with the order.

Gun control has lead to a decrease in gun violence across several countries. Many are familiar with the buy-back of rifles and unregistered guns by the Howard government in 1996 following the Port Arthur massacre. In the eighteen years prior to Port Arthur, there were thirteen mass shootings (of four or more victims). There has not been one since the buy-back. The firearm homicide rate has dropped by fifty-nine per cent and the firearm suicide rate has dropped by sixty-five per cent.

In Britain, gun control measures were introduced in 1997, banning all pump action and semi-automatic weapons as well as implementing mandatory registration for shotgun owners. By 2011, gun crime had halved.

What President Obama has implemented, if done diligently, will aim to do just that. It addresses the loopholes of gun purchases over the Internet and at gun conventions. It will hinder the sale of guns to convicted criminals or individuals with mental illness through increased and more efficient background checks. As a result of its measures, it will make it increasingly difficult for children to access family weapons, possibly reducing the amount of accidental deaths and injuries across the nation.

In doing so, it may deny the opportunity for violence to perpetuate. It will attempt to curb the horrifying statistics of gun violence across the nation, not to mention accidents and suicides.

Despite these possibilities, the rhetoric blurted out by opponents is all too familiar.

'It won’t stop criminals. They will still have access to firearms. It will only impede the ability for "law-abiding" citizens to purchase guns.'

My personal favourite: 'It’s unconstitutional.'

In fairness, there is some truth to these arguments. It is obvious that criminals will continue to exist and these measures unfortunately won’t change that. But as the President preached following the Sandy Hook massacre, if one child were to be saved by imposing these overarching measures, 'then we [have] an obligation to try.'

As for the Constitution, there is absolutely nothing stipulated in the order that will prevent lawful citizens from obtaining guns. The attempts made by Republicans to argue the legality of the President’s action are not only false, they're also entirely divisive.

...how could an individual’s right to bear arms supersede the safety of another’s life?

The Second Amendment to the Constitution states that American citizens have the right to bear arms in order to defend themselves against a tyrannical government. Furthermore, executive orders are within the legal reach of the President and are heavily scrutinised by teams of lawyers before implementation.

Moreover, by adopting the 'It won’t stop gun violence, so let’s not do anything,' principle, I suppose we should lift laws that forbid stealing, speeding and identity theft, because we can’t prevent those from happening either.

Of course, following the President’s delivery, there were immediate counter arguments from the conservative corner. Republican Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio stated that President Obama’s measures 'would do nothing to keep us safe,' whilst Speaker of the House Paul Ryan labelled it 'executive overreach.'

The question many people responded with was how could an individual’s right to bear arms supersede the safety of another’s life?

One of the most striking comments came from Fox News presenter Andrea Tanteros in response to Obama’s emotional speech during his reflection upon the Sandy Hook massacre. After being extremely critical of Obama’s lack of care for his hometown of Chicago, she went on to theorise that 'everything he is doing won’t solve the problem, so I would check that podium for a raw onion... we are in awards season.'

Comments like this are poisonous, not to mention that they show an atrocious amount of disrespect to victims of gun violence and their families. This was a new kind of low, even for Fox News.

President Obama's order displays nothing but his willingness to govern in the best interests of his people, and therefore to safeguard them from a source of violence that took the lives of some 13,286 Americans in 2015.

His outpour of emotion might not have only been for those who have paid the ultimate price for no reason. Perhaps he realises that there is hope in these orders that will decrease the mass shootings that occurred on a daily basis in his country last year.

Living in a place where guns are few and far between, it’s difficult to comprehend the way in which a lot of the US is bound to its weapons. I’m currently traveling the States right now, passing through Utah. Our tour guide, a Native American who is incredibly down to earth, told us: 'I’m a redneck. I like guns and trucks.' I feel like many individuals across the country share the former interest.

The news stands at many supermarkets are riddled with gun magazines, flaunting the latest rifles, handguns and semi-automatic weapons.

Many corner stores and shops sell logos and bumper stickers exclaiming a love for guns and the Second Amendment.  

Consequently, it’s difficult to see any changes being made to the Second Amendment, let alone a complete elimination. No President will ever have the authority or perhaps even the support to do that. Nevertheless, hopefully Obama's measures are able to kickstart a mindset that reduces gun-related violence.

At this present moment, however, guns are simply too ingrained in the psyche of the American people, one I will thankfully never understand.

Darcy Coombs hides behind his computer as the beat scribe for his band Otious. You'll find him voicing his opinions in 'Read'. He also hasn't grown a millimetre since he was 14.