By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
Not much news came out of this week’s North American Leaders’ Summit at the White House. Probably because most reporters fell asleep in the Rose Garden, listening to President Barack Obama, President Felipe Calderon of Mexico and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada — aka “The Three Amigos” — drone on and on about trade, tourism, and border security.
I admit it. I was dozing off myself when I suddenly heard President Calderon utter two words that are practically banned in the United States today. At least you never hear anyone talk about it. When’s the last time you heard any politician, Republican or Democrat, say the loaded words: “gun control”?
Calderon’s comments came in response to a reporter’s question about the ongoing drug wars in Mexico, in which, according to STRATFOR’s 2010 annual report on Mexico’s drug cartels, more than 11,000 people were killed in 2010 alone. Could American and Canadian tourists count on a reduction in the violence? He responded by pointing his finger directly at the United States.
It’s an established fact in any society, noted Calderon, that the level of violence is directly related to the number of guns in circulation. And, while drug competition among cartels had existed in Mexico for many years, the level of violence began to escalate in 2004 — the same year that the U.S. ban on assault weapons expired. During his presidency, President Calderon reported, the Mexican military had seized more than 140,000 weapons, most of them assault rifles, and the vast majority of them purchased in the United States and smuggled south across the border.
Now here’s where I sat on the edge of my chair. We did a count, said Calderon, and discovered 8,000 American gun shops along the border with Mexico. Eight thousand! By his calculation, that adds up to nine gun shops for every Wal-Mart found in all of Mexico and the United States combined. Not only that, Calderon claimed that in Washington, D.C., the rate of homicides per hundred thousand inhabitants is “higher by 10 — more than 10 or 20 than the largest number in any of the big cities in Mexico.”
In effect, standing alongside President Obama, Calderon was telling Americans: If you’re worried about gun violence in Mexico, don’t just blame us. Clean up your own house first. Yet neither President Obama nor Prime Minister Harper responded. Most press coverage of the summit simply ignored any mention of Calderon’s comments on guns. And at the next White House briefing, not one reporter asked Press Secretary Jay Carney what Obama planned to do about the assault weapons ban.
The answer is: Not much. Of course, nobody expected George W. Bush to fight for an extension of the assault weapons ban. The NRA wouldn’t let him. But President Obama hasn’t acted either. On his campaign website in 2008, Obama listed as one of his goals: “making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent” — a pledge repeated on his website as president-elect. But in April 2009, shortly after taking office, Obama stated he would not push for reinstatement of the ban, even though he still believed it made sense. He said he would work toward an international treaty, instead. But nothing has happened.
And we haven’t seen much more action from Congress. Since its expiration, three bills have been introduced to restore the ban on assault weapons: by Senator Feinstein in 2004; Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy in 2007; and Senator Mark Kirk in 2008. But not one of them ever reached the floor for a vote. And, as far as I can determine, there is no legislation to renew the ban pending in either the House or Senate today.
It’s almost as if, like global warming, the issue of gun control has disappeared from public view. Unfortunately, the reality of gun violence has not. Another campus mass murder, seven killed, in Oakland, Calif. Three students gunned down at Chardon High School in Columbus, Ohio. Trayvon Martin shot and killed while walking home from a 7-Eleven. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords shot, six constituents killed, outside a Safeway in Tucson, Ariz. And the list goes on and on.
In July 2010, Chaska, Minn., Police Chief Scott M. Knight told the House Subcommittee on Crime: “Since 1963, more Americans have died from gunfire than perished in combat in the whole of the 20th century.” The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence (www.bradycenter.org) estimates that we lose more than 30,000 Americans every year to gun violence. Yet our political leaders do nothing. Democrats are afraid to raise the issue of gun control. And Republicans would rather ban the pill. How many more have to die before we do something about guns?
© 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.