A determined United States President Barack Obama last week
showed he intends to go over the heads of lawmakers in
Congress to push for his package of gun control measures to
In an effort to capitalise on emotions from last month's
massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, Mr Obama couched
his initiative in the context of protecting children from
The campaign immediately began facing tough opposition, not
only in Congress from senators from states like Texas, but
also from the National Rifle Association - which denounced
the President as an ''elitist hypocrite'' for opposing
universal armed guards in schools while his daughters are
protected by the Secret Service.
NRA president Wayne LaPierre says Americans care about their
president and want to protect him with armed Secret Service
agents. But when it comes to ''our most beloved, innocent and
vulnerable members of an American family'', children are left
every day utterly defenceless. The group's campaign
advertisement to this effect has been roundly criticised,
with a speechwriter for former Republican president George W
Bush calling it ''beyond the pale''.
It is difficult to understand from New Zealand the love some
Americans have for their guns. Walking through some American
towns and seeing gun-toting citizens is an eye-opener.
Driving through the Midwest and seeing racks of arms attached
to the back of a utility vehicle makes tourists pause.
Watching them being brandished during emotive anti-terrorist
rallies is frightening. Mr Obama acknowledges his task ahead
is difficult. There will be pundits and politicians and
special-interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical,
all-out assault on liberty - not because that is true, but
because they have to increase fear, or gain higher ratings,
or produce revenue for themselves. Behind the scenes, they
will do everything they can to block common-sense reforms.
Mr Obama will try to block most of the opposition by
mobilising public support from usual gun opponents in urban
areas and coastal states; but also in congressional districts
where the tradition of gun ownership is strong. That will
include large swathes of the Midwest, southern and mountain
western states where gun ownership is seen as a God-given
right through the Second Amendment.
Mr Obama has outlined 23 separate actions he can take
unilaterally, including authorising research on gun violence
and nominating a full-time director of the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
He will call on Congress to swiftly pass a series of
proposals that will, among other things, go beyond closing
the gun show loophole that exempts some sellers from running
criminal background checks, and enact stiffer penalties for
gun traffickers. All told, Mr Obama is addressing four key
goals: keeping guns out of the wrong hands, keeping ''weapons
of war'' off the streets, making schools safer and improving
mental health services.
Proposals will also include federal funding to allow local
communities to hire 1000 school resource officers and
counsellors, which will include trained police officers in
the nation's schools.
In 2011, the latest year for which detailed statistics are
available, there were 12,664 murders in the US. Of those,
8583 were caused by firearms, according to the Federal Bureau
of Investigation. The number of firearm-related deaths in
total is much higher still. So while the Administration is
expected to try to restrict some types of assault weapons, it
is also focusing on ways to keep more commonly used firearms
out of the hands of dangerous criminals and people with
In New Zealand, we are shocked by the news that a young South
Auckland man died after being shot with an air gun. Last
year, hunting accidents took the lives of some New Zealanders
enjoying life in the outdoors. But it is impossible to
imagine the agony of having a child mown down by an
semi-automatic rifle with a 30-bullet magazine.
American civilians have 250 million to 300 million firearms,
the Violence Prevention Research Programme at the University
of California says. Those firearms are not going to go away
anytime soon - but all strength to Mr Obama as he tries to
stop the trail of death caused by those weapons.