President Obama had barely finished outlining his brave embrace Wednesday of a politically fraught uphill battle for comprehensive reform of gun-control laws before the National Rifle Association hurled back its callous, repugnant response. The difference in the messages -- the former a rational attempt to rein in gun-related crimes, the latter a harsh personal attack that mocked the president and crassly interjected his young daughters into the political fray -- hardly could be more telling.
Recalling the massacre of 20 young children and six educators in Connecticut that prompted his pledge to attempt reform of the nation's lax gun laws, the president intoned his purpose:
"While there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there's even one life that can be saved, then we've got an obligation to try."
The NRA's obtuse response went the other direction. It mocked the president as an "elitist hypocrite" who lavishes security on his young daughters, Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11.
"Are the president's kids more important than yours," a snarky voice demands. "Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school." The ad continued: "Mr. Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he is just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security."
How low can the NRA sink? Every president's children and spouse -- George W. Bush's, Bill Clinton's, Jimmy Carter's -- have been sheltered by the Secret Service for reasons Americans know all too well. Left unguarded, their lives would be endangered precisely because they are the president's family.
Obama's new gun-control agenda is selfless, helpful and should have been tackled years ago. The nation clearly needs a universal background check system to close a loophole that leaves 40 percent of gun sales -- Internet sales, and those between private sellers and buyers, typically at gunshows -- available to criminals, illegal gun traffickers and the mentally deranged.
He seeks to eliminate barriers that Congress, at the urging of the gun lobby, put in place to prevent creation of a comprehensive data base that local, state and national law enforcement agencies could use instantaneously to track gun inventories and registration records to investigate crimes and to restrain gun-running and illicit sales.
With school children standing beside him who had sent letters asking him to make their lives safer, Obama promised to pursue measures that would reduce massacres of students and citizens in public places. He also committed to an all-out effort with Congress to reinstate a national ban on sales of assault rifles, large-capacity clips, and armor-piercing bullets -- weapons so frequently used in mass shootings.
None of these goals will be easy to achieve, especially the ones that require acts of Congress, and defiance of an NRA whose leadership is focused on more guns, bigger clips and vigilante shoot-outs, never mind the slaughter of innocents trapped in the cross-fire. No wonder the NRA's ad was so hateful and crude. The NRA allows no room for reason, nor for a civil society -- nor for any leadership that crosses its gun-crazed path.
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