President Obama’s January 5 speech on gun violence was very emotionally charged, as he began to cry near the end of the speech while remembering the shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary.
For a president that has been criticized in the past for being rather unemotional and detached in the face of disaster, it made his display even more powerful and expressed a far-reaching and profound effect of gun violence.
The main point of his speech was to outline four basic ways he will work for the rest of his term to help lessen the rate of gun violence in the United States.
These actions include closing background check loopholes for online sales as well as hiring more people to process checks and prosecute unlawful owners. He also plans on giving $500 million to increase access across the nation to mental health services (Obama notes that 2/3 of instances of gun violence are suicides) and working with the private sector to further research on safe gun technologies. Obama mentioned one of these technologies two days later in a town hall meeting he held: a gun that only fires when in a certain proximity to a chip found in a bracelet or ring.
Obama often refers to these solutions as “common sense,” and I am inclined to agree. These solutions are relatively simple and make intuitive sense.
To make background checks faster, get more people to do the checks. If 2/3 of gun violence is due to suicide, an unfortunate effect of mental illness, increasing access to mental health services allows people to seek treatment when they may not have been able to before.
Of course, in part due to the heavily partisan nature of gun concerns in the US, President Obama has been met with opposition on these initiatives.
Some have said that these actions are an overreach of the President’s power, and others fear that this is the beginning of a slippery slope to gun confiscation. President Obama addresses both of these concerns in his speech and the town hall meeting.
On the idea of overreaching his power, Obama mentions other rights, such as freedom of speech, that are restricted in some aspects for public safety, such as not being able to yell “Fire!” in a theater. He draws a parallel between this caveat and his proposed measures.
On the idea of these measures leading to eventual confiscation, Obama takes a humorous approach, calling it a conspiracy and asking theorists why he would wait until his last year in office to begin the process.
One of the biggest criticisms of the new measures is that they would not have stopped any of the previous mass shootings. President Obama notes that, even if these measures only bring deaths from gun violence to 28,000/year from 30,000/year, saving 2,000 lives is well worth the investment.
It will be inherently difficult to understand and appreciate the scope of these benefits, as they are measured in lives saved, lives remaining unaffected by gun violence, people casually going about their days.
Even if there will continue to be mass shootings, inaction accomplishes nothing. As Obama notes, “I think it’s really important for us not to suggest that, if we can’t solve every crime, we shouldn’t try to solve any crimes.”