WASHINGTON - America’s latest horrific act of gun violence is forcing Washington to wrestle anew with the easy availability of deadly weaponry in a nation that constitutionally protects the right to bear arms.
Gunfire slays more than ten thousand people annually in the United States, including nine church-goers last week in Charleston, South Carolina.
Amid the grief, reports surfaced that suspected shooter Dylann Roof was given a gun as a birthday present earlier this year. That such a troubled young man had a firearm shows America has a problem to confront, according to President Barack Obama.
“Every country has violent, hateful, or mentally unstable people,” said Obama late last week. “What’s different is not every country is awash with easily-accessible guns. And so I refuse to act as if this is the new normal.”
Already, the issue is reverberating in next year’s presidential race. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton noted the Charleston tragedy followed shooting rampages at a Connecticut elementary school and a Colorado movie theater.
“We have to face hard truths about race, violence, guns and division,” said Clinton. “How many innocent people in our country from little children to church members to movie theater attendees, how many people do we need to see cut down before we act?”
America’s biggest gun-rights lobby, the National Rifle Association, has not shied from the fight. The group’s leader, Wayne LaPierre, recently pledged to defeat Clinton, and, in 2012, famously declared: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
The NRA’s political clout is such that prominent Republicans lined up to address its annual national convention this year, including former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who is now running for president.
“I have a message for the Obama administration,” said Bush. “Why don’t you focus more on keeping weapons out of the hands of Islamic terrorists, and less on keeping weapons out of the hands of law-abiding Americans?”
The U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights affirms the right to bear arms, and the United States has almost as many privately-owned guns as citizens. Two years ago, the Senate tried and failed to pass legislation to better scrutinize gun buyers. President Obama says such measures are politically-perilous but will be embraced one day.
“I know, today’s politics makes it less likely that we will see any sort of serious gun safety legislation,” Obama said. “I want to be clear: I am not resigned. I have faith we will eventually do the right thing.”