Obama’s tears too little, too late

by Jim Longworth

So here we go again. A public massacre is staged by a lone nut who had access to assault weapons.

Immediate public shock and outrage ensues. There’s wall-to-wall cable news coverage with wrong information being updated minute by minute because reporters jumped the gun trying to get the scoop. Telegenic psychologists are trotted out to give opinions about a shooter they’ve never met. Prayer vigils are held where clergymen comfort families of victims by telling them it was God’s will. The president gives a speech to console the nation, and calls for an end to senseless violence. And flags are flown at half staff. Then, months later, politicians suffer memory loss, and fail to do anything to prevent massacres in the future.

By now this shameful pattern of events should be so offensive to our sensibilities, that we should be taking up arms to force Washington to keep us from having any. Instead history keeps repeating itself. At Columbine, at Fort Hood, in Blacksburg, in Aurora, in Arizona and now, at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. where, last Thursday, six adults and 20 children no older than 7 years of age, were savagely murdered by 20-year-old Adam Lanza.

Not that all massacres aren’t tragic, but this one in particular will go down in history as the most heinous, simply because of the number of dead, and the fact that most of the victims were so young. And it will be remembered as our nation’s most bizarre mass murder, because the three weapons used by Lanza were purchased by and registered to his mother, who he killed just prior to arriving at Sandy Hook. It will also be remembered as the massacre President Obama might have prevented.

In July, right after the Colorado theater shootings, I wrote a column in which I suggested that Republican politicians were partially to blame for the carnage. That’s because under George W. Bush’s administration, they repealed the 1994 federal ban on assault weapons. However, President Obama’s hands are no longer clean either. He could have used the Colorado massacre as a rallying cry for re-instating the ban. Instead he ran away from the assault-weapons controversy so as not to alienate any voters in what was initially shaping up to be a close re-election contest.

The president’s failure to seize the momentum of Gabby Gifford’s shooting, and later, that of the victims in Aurora, Colo. reminded me of Aaron Sorkin’s An American President. In that film, the incumbent president is advised by his staff to crusade for substantive gun legislation. But the fictional president refuses, saying he first needs to get re-elected, then he will take on the gun lobby. Sound familiar?

Obama made a deliberate political decision not to go after assault rifles in his first term, and now he’s reaping what he sowed. That’s why I was not impressed by the’  president’s tears while he delivered a speech about the tragedy of young lives lost at Newton. No doubt his tears were real, after all, he is a father of two daughters. But his tears were also self-inflicted.

Putting blame aside, though, the president and Congress must now buckle down and work together to prevent any further mass shootings. Yes, they must ban assault weapons, but they must also extend waiting periods to 90 days for the purchase of a gun, and require that, in addition to undergoing a thorough background check, the purchaser must also present a note from a licensed physician. Meanwhile, Congress should also draft legislation that will fund and require all school districts and all employers to screen students and potential employees for signs of behavioral health problems. Students, for example, could be screened before entering 8th grade, and again before entering 11th grade, just to give schools a baseline measurement on mental health. Likewise, adults seeking employment would first undergo a screening, and that would also apply for anyone enlisting in the military. In addition, schools and local mental-health organizations should be required to conduct annual seminars for parents on how to recognize seriously dysfunctional and potentially violent behavior in their children. Finally, more school resource officers must be employed.

These legislative and procedural initiatives are much more important than the fiscal cliff, or repealing Obamacare. If you don’t think so, then just go ask the parents of those 20 dead children what our political priorities should be.

We’re all still shedding tears for the Sandy Hook victims, but we must also make certain that those tears, and their deaths, will count for something. JIM LONGWORTH is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11am on WMYV (cable channel 15).