US leaders convene at the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff change of responsibility ceremony, Sept. 30, 2011. (Flickr/Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff)
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Given these last few weeks, who doesn’t know what an AR-15 is? Who hasn’t seen the mind-boggling stats on the way assault rifles have flooded this country, or tabulations of accumulating Newtown-style mass killings, or noted that there are barely more gas stations nationwide than federally licensed firearms dealers, or heard the renewed debates over the Second Amendment, or been struck by the rapid shifts in public opinion on gun control, or checked out the disputes over how effective an assault-rifle ban was the last time around? Who doesn’t know about the NRA’s suggestion to weaponize schools, or about the price poor neighborhoods may be paying in gun deaths for the present expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment? Who hasn’t seen the legions of stories about how, in the wake of the Newtown slaughter, sales of guns, especially AR-15 assault rifles, have soared, ammunition sales have surged, background checks for future gun purchases have risen sharply, and gun shows have been besieged with customers?
If you haven’t stumbled across figures on gun violence in America or on suicide-by-gun, you’ve been hiding under a rock. If you haven’t heard about Chicago’s soaring and Washington D.C.'s plunging gun-death stats (and that both towns have relatively strict gun laws), where have you been?
Has there, in fact, been any aspect of the weaponization of the United States that, since the Newtown massacre, hasn’t been discussed? Are you the only person in the country, for instance, who doesn’t know that Vice President Joe Biden has been assigned the task of coming up with an administration gun-control agenda before Barack Obama is inaugurated for his second term? And can you honestly tell me that you haven’t seen global comparisons of killing rates in countries that have tight gun laws and the U.S., or read at least one discussion about life in countries like Colombia or Guatemala, where armed guards are omnipresent?
After years of mass killings that resulted in next to no national dialogue about the role of guns and how to control them, the subject is back on the American agenda in a significant way and—by all signs—isn’t about to leave town anytime soon. The discussion has been so expansive after years in a well-armed wilderness that it’s easy to miss what still isn’t being discussed, and in some sense just how narrow our focus remains.
Think of it this way: the Obama administration is reportedly going to call on Congress to pass a new ban on assault weapons, as well as one on high-capacity ammunition magazines, and to close the loopholes that allow certain gun purchasers to avoid background checks. But Biden has already conceded, at least implicitly, that facing a Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a filibuster-prone Senate, the administration’s ability to make much of this happen—as on so many domestic issues—is limited.
That will shock few Americans. After all, the most essential fact about the Obama presidency is this: at home, the president is a hamstrung weakling; abroad, in terms of his ability to choose a course of action and—from drones strikes and special ops raids to cyberwar and other matters—simply act, he’s closer to Superman. So here’s a question: while the administration is pledging to try to curb the wholesale spread of ever more powerful weaponry at home, what is it doing about the same issue abroad where it has so much more power to pursue the agenda it prefers?