James Brady’s death last year was ruled a homicide.
After he was shot in the 1981 assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan’s life, the president’s press secretary spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. When he died 33 years later, the coroner declared it was the original gunshot that killed him.
Brady spent those years, along with his wife Sarah, fighting for stricter gun control laws. The federal law requiring background checks for gun purchases – rife with exceptions – bears his name.
So does the press room where President Obama had to, once again, stride to the podium to express sympathy and grief for the families of people brutally murdered in yet another mass shooting. The president sounded familiar notes: He thanked the responders. He honored the victims and offered prayers for their families. But something was different in this speech.
This time, he was angry.
His anger wasn’t directed at Chris Harper Mercer, the murderer who hadn’t been named yet by the media when Obama spoke. His anger was for you. And me. And every other citizen in this country who has allowed shooting after shooting to destroy countless lives while our government refuses to act.
“This is a political choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America. We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction….
“So, tonight, as those of us who are lucky enough to hug our kids a little closer are thinking about the families who aren’t so fortunate, I’d ask the American people to think about how they can get our government to change these laws, and to save lives, and to let young people grow up.”
Obama’s frustration was visible on his face, palpable in a way it hasn’t been in the past. And no wonder. He was president when James Holmes killed 12 people in a movie theater. He was president for 20 dead children in Newtown, Connecticut, and nine dead black parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina. He was president when one of Congress’ own was shot in the head.
We’ve watched him plead and cajole Congress to take action. And Congress has done nothing.
After the 20 dead kids, there was a limp attempt to pass a neutered background check, but even with the names of a conservative Republican and the Senate’s most conservative Democrat attached, the bill died an ignominious death, six votes short of breaking a filibuster.
Twenty dead kids, and nothing.
Once Congress couldn’t act after Sandy Hook, what would make them act? Not Charleston. Not Lafayette, Louisiana. And certainly not Roseburg, Oregon, where nine people died yesterday at Mercer’s hands.
President Obama has read the writing on the wall: Gun control legislation will not happen during his presidency, no matter how many dead bodies pile up. And he knows why – because America never puts this issue on the front burner when election season rolls around. His speech continued:
“And that will require a change of politics on this issue. And it will require that the American people, individually, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican or an independent, when you decide to vote for somebody, are making a determination as to whether this cause of continuing death for innocent people should be a relevant factor in your decision. If you think this is a problem, then you should expect your elected officials to reflect your views.”
We elect Democratic politicians who say they support reasonable regulations on guns but do nothing to push them once they’re elected. We elect conservative Republicans who fight any gun laws tooth and nail. Poll after poll shows overwhelming majorities of Americans, even gun owners, support what Obama called “common-sense gun-safety laws,” but we don’t hold our elected officials accountable for failing us on this issue again and again.
Obama is furious with us, and he’s right to be. We should be furious with ourselves. We should still be screaming about those 20 dead children, and the hundreds of bodies that have followed them.
President Obama stood in a room named for a man who gave three decades of his life to making the nation safe from guns, and he told us nothing would happen until we took action, until we replaced a do-nothing Congress with one that would do something, anything to stop the killings.
He’s right; it’s on us.