WASHINGTON -- In his first year as President, Barack Obama's continuing concessions to the "guns anywhere" mentality of the gun lobby and lack of leadership for common-sense gun laws has earned him a grade of "F" from the nation's leading group fighting to prevent gun violence.
President Obama signed legislation letting people carry concealed weapons in national parks and in checked luggage on Amtrak trains, adopted the gun lobby's empty rhetoric about just "enforcing the laws on the books," muzzled Cabinet members who expressed any support for stronger gun laws and failed to appoint permanent leadership at the
agency that polices the gun industry. This White House even voiced no objection to people carrying guns near Presidential events.
His White House staff removed statements from the White House website that declared support for gun violence prevention laws. His spokesman repeatedly refused to express support for any proposed legislation to strengthen gun laws. And President Obama and the White House staff avoided any mention of guns after horrific, high-profile shootings and the anniversaries of historic shooting tragedies.
For these reasons, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence today released a report on President Obama's performance, President Obama's First Year: Failed Leadership, Lost Lives: http://www.bradycampaign.org/xshare/reports/fedleg/obama-1styear-report.
pdf. The organization gives the President an "F."
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"If I had been told, in the days before Barack Obama's inauguration, that his record on gun violence prevention would be this poor, I would not have believed it," said Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Center. "Throughout his career, President Obama has understood the urgent need for strong, sensible gun laws. We have been very disappointed by his first year record on this issue."
"With more than 110,000 gun deaths or injuries last year, reducing gun violence needs to be one of our national priorities," Helmke said. "We hope President Obama will work with us in the coming years to reduce gun violence in America."
A review of the record of President Obama's policy positions before being elected and his administration's positions since occupying the White House shows a clear record of back-pedaling:
-- Candidate Obama said "I am not in favor of concealed weapons. I think that creates a potential atmosphere where more innocent people could [get shot during] altercations." Then he signed legislation allowing loaded, concealed guns in national parks. Neither the White House nor the Obama Interior Department expressed opposition to the amendment that changed the Reagan-era ban on concealed weapons in parks.
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-- In April 2008, President Obama said "I've said before we should have a much tougher background check system, one that's much more effective and make sure there aren't loopholes out there like the gun show loophole." In response to a Helen Thomas inquiry about the gun show loophole, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in April 2009, "I think the President believes that we can have a greater outcome in the short term working to enforce the laws that are on our books."
-- On the second anniversary of the Virginia Tech University tragedy and the tenth anniversary of the Columbine High School tragedy - as well as after a shooting in Binghamton, New York that left 13 dead, the shooting of Dr. George Tiller, the shooting of four police officers by an Obama-hating white supremacist in Pittsburgh and the shooting of a security guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. - none of
President Obama's public statements included the word "gun."
The avoidance of the gun issue has had international repercussions as well. Despite horrific gun violence related to the war between drug lords and the government in Mexico and vast evidence that the overwhelming majority of firearms in the conflict came from the U.S., the White House silenced two Cabinet members who said the U.S. should consider changing gun laws.
At a February 25, 2009 press conference with the Attorney General of Mexico, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder reminded the audience of President Obama's campaign statements favoring legislation "making the expired Federal assault weapons ban permanent." Three weeks later, Holder said of a possible assault weapons ban, "I think what we're going to do is try to enforce the laws that we have on the books." Three weeks after that, CBS anchor Katie Couric interviewed Holder and asked about the assault weapons ban change. Holder responded. "I look forward to working with the NRA to come up with ways in which we can use common sense approaches to reduce the level of violence that we see."
On March 25, 2009 in Mexico, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton conceded that an assault weapons ban would be difficult, but said that the weapons "don't belong on anyone's street." Asked about her comment, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged that President Obama had supported the ban as a candidate, but said he had no plans to ask Congress to reinstate it. A few weeks later, Gibbs added that "the President believes particularly that there are other strategies that we can take to enforce the laws that are already on our books."
Obama's avoidance of the issue so far is remarkable for many reasons, but one is that the level of hateful rhetoric against him by gun rights extremists continues unabated. The NRA's website www.GunBanObama.com remains live 14 months after the conclusion of the 2008 Presidential election. A young man in Pittsburgh reportedly indicated that he feared "the Obama gun ban that's on the way" before he murdered three police officers last year.
"The gun lobby's message during the campaign was 'if elected, Barack Obama would be the most anti-gun president in American history,'" Helmke said. "Last week, one journalist wrote that the National Rifle Association 'should erect a statue of Barack Obama in front of its D.C. headquarters' because he 'has done more for firearm owners than any President in recent history.' Avoiding the gun issue has done nothing to stop or slow the political attacks from the gun extremists."
Last summer, after gun rights zealots began displaying firearms openly at "town hall" meetings as well as at the President's public events, White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs went out of his way to defend the carrying of these weapons. Rather than condemning these security threats, he stated, "There are laws that govern firearms that are done state or locally. Those laws don't change when the president comes to your state or locality."
"This administration's first year policy on gun violence prevention was, in a word, evasion," Helmke said. "I am hopeful that President Obama will recommit to his long-held values and concerns on this issue. Lives literally hang in the balance."
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence is a national non-profit organization working to reduce the tragic toll of gun violence in America, through education, research, and legal advocacy. The programs of the Brady Center complement the legislative and grassroots mobilization of its sister organization, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence with its dedicated network of Million Mom March Chapters.