Obama’s Gun Play

NYTimes.com – opinion
Published: January 21, 2011.    By Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist

President Obama is under renewed pressure from his base to demonstrate that he is, indeed, a principled man of unwavering conviction rather than a pliant political reed willingly bent and bowed by ever-shifting winds.

This time the issue is gun control.
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Graphic – Firearms and Fatalities:  http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2011/01/21/opinion/21blowimg.html?ref=opinion
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Pre-presidency, Obama had been a strong supporter of gun-control initiatives. Since then, however, he has remained curiously quiet on the issue in general and following the Tucson shooting in particular.

The question now is: which Obama will show up at the State of the Union?

Obama, the politician, must be hesitant. He’s enjoying a surge in the polls following a successful lame-duck session of Congress in which a few concessions bought substantial gains. And his handling of the shooting seemed to strike the right balance with the overwhelming majority of Americans. He’s on a roll!

Furthermore, according to a 2005 Gallup poll, gun owners are almost twice as likely to be white as nonwhite, are more than three times as likely to be male as female and are more likely to live in the South and Midwest than in the East or West. Yes, you guessed it: This fits the profile of the voters Obama has lost and needs to win back if he wants to be re-elected.

And no one wants to upset the powerful gun-rights lobby, whose campaign-finance clout dwarfs that of the gun-control lobby. According to data from the nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog group the Center for Responsive Politics, the gun-rights lobby has contributed more than $24 million in election cycles from 1990 to 2010. About 85 percent went to Republicans. By comparison, the gun-control lobby donated less than $2 million in the same period, mostly to Democrats.

That said, Obama the gun-control supporter surely knows how anomalous we are among comparable nations. We are a violent society whose intense fealty to firearms has deadly consequences. Sensible restrictions on the most dangerous weapons could go a long way toward making us safer.

According to 2005 data from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, a comparison of member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for which data were available showed that the U.S. is in a league of its own, and not in a good way. We have nearly 9 guns for every 10 people, and about 9 out of every 10 of our homicides are committed with one of those guns. No other country even comes close.

At the moment, there is popular support for more restrictions. According to a NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, 52 percent of Americans asked believed that laws covering the sale of guns should be made more strict. Will Obama seize the sentiment? This is a test of character: Will the president choose what is right over what is convenient and speak out for what he believes in?

Next week we will see which Obama emerges: a stalwart of conviction, an exemplar of expediency or someone still stuck in the ambiguous middle of conciliation and pseudocourage.

< http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/22/opinion/22blow.html >

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