Lackluster Liturgy: Why US Gun Control is Highly Overdue

While President Barack Obama's memorial service speech for the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims has received some very positive reviews, something about what I read left me empty. A friend found some of his comments - about how we do a poor job taking care of our children and the like - to be insensitive and solipsistic. I think she's right.

But what disturbed me more was his sudden claim that we need to finally take meaningful action, as though he has been powerless for since January 20, 2009, to do anything.

Since I’ve been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, fourth time we’ve hugged survivors, the fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims.

And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and in big cities all across America, victims whose -- much of the time their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.

Surely, we can. But why hasn't he until now? Why reference the shootings in his speech, but say nothing of gun control or an assault weapons ban?

His speech won plaudits from a lot of liberals, but he has been in office 1,426 days and in that time there have been at least 15 mass shootings, including Friday's massacre. From Think Progress:

December 11, 2012. On Tuesday, 22-year-old Jacob Tyler Roberts killed two people and himself with a stolen rifle in Clackamas Town Center, Oregon. His motive is unknown.

September 27, 2012. Five were shot to death by 36-year-old Andrew Engeldinger at Accent Signage Systems in Minneapolis, MN. Three others were wounded. Engeldinger went on a rampage after losing his job, ultimately killing himself.

August 5, 2012. Six Sikh temple members were killed when 40-year-old US Army veteran Wade Michael Page opened fire in a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Four others were injured, and Page killed himself.

July 20, 2012. During the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, 24-year-old James Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 58. Holmes was arrested outside the theater.

May 29, 2012. Ian Stawicki opened fire on Cafe Racer Espresso in Seattle, Washington, killing five and himself after a citywide manhunt.

April 6, 2012. Jake England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 32, shot five black men in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in racially motivated shooting spree. Three died.

April 2, 2012. A former student, 43-year-old One L. Goh killed seven people at Oikos University, a Korean Christian college in Oakland, California. The shooting was the sixth-deadliest school massacre in the U.S. and the deadliest attack on a school since the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.

October 14, 2011. Eight people died in a shooting at Salon Meritage hair salon in Seal Beach, California. The gunman, 41-year-old Scott Evans Dekraai, killed six women and two men dead, while just one woman survived. It was Orange County’s deadliest mass killing.

September 6, 2011. Eduardo Sencion, 32, entered an IHOP restaurant in Carson City, Nevada and shot 12 people. Five died, including three National Guard members.

January 8, 2011. Former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) was shot in the head when 22-year-old Jared Loughner opened fire on an event she was holding at a Safeway market in Tucson, AZ. Six people died, including Arizona District Court Chief Judge John Roll, one of Giffords’ staffers, and a nine-year-old girl. 19 total were shot. Loughner has been sentenced to seven life terms plus 140 years, without parole.

August 3, 2010. Omar S. Thornton, 34, gunned down Hartford Beer Distributor in Manchester, Connecticut after getting caught stealing beer. Nine were killed, including Thornton, and two were injured.

November 5, 2009. 43 people were shot by Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan at the Fort Hood army base in Texas. Hasan reportedly yelled “Allahu Akbar!” before opening fire, killing 13 and wounding 29 others.

April 3, 2009. Jiverly Wong, 41, opened fire at an immigration center in Binghamton, New York before committing suicide. He killed 13 people and wounded four.

March 29, 2009. Eight people died in a shooting at the Pinelake Health and Rehab nursing home in Carthage, North Carolina. The gunman, 45-year-old Robert Stewart, was targeting his estranged wife who worked at the home and survived. Stewart was sentenced to life in prison.

That is a rather large death toll and, while Obama has given the perfunctory responses in each case, the circumstances that allowed for each of these mass killings to occur remained in place. Guns remain far too easy to get and our mental health system remains underfunded and the victim of disregard.

I don't doubt the emotion in his speech, or that he meant what he was saying. But his historical amnesia - especially his own failures in response to these earlier shootings - mirrors the amnesia of the rest of the Washington political class, one that has relegated the debate over guns to the scrap heap and has left social services and the safety net low on the priority list.

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