American President Barack Obama delivered a beautiful speech earlier this week at the memorial for the victims of the recent Tucson blood bath and the attempt on the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Obama has been lauded, even in unexpected places such as Peggy Noonan’s resolutely neo-liberal column in the Wall Street Journal.
I believe the speech, being a fundamental slice of the conversation Americans are having after the tragedy, is equally notable for its omission. Obama did not seize the opportunity to talk about laws which could strengthen gun control in the United States. The young man who is suspected of committing the crimes was legally able to obtain a killing gun with a clip designed to fire off up to 30 rounds in rapid sequence. This despite a life history that smacked of mental instability.
President Obama’s speech is part of the discourse of silence in the United States about gun control. Gun control is not a meaningfully permissible part of the conversation, even after such a dire episode. In Washington, a majority of congress members apparently agree there is no need to create stronger gun control legislation. In fact, such legislation as exists was weakened federally in 2004; and as recently as last year, the Supreme Court defeated an effort by the city of Chicago to limit use of guns there. Some reports this week claimed that sales of the clip used in the attack were brisk. In Arizona this weekend, a major gun show, “Crossroads of the West”, went on in Tucson as scheduled.
One might suggest that the aftermath of such a “heinous’ (the adjective used by the suspect’s family) act was no time for Obama to raise the contentious topic of gun control; that the moment called for healing and compassion, for a large gesture aimed at bringing the American ‘family’ together. In all regards, one might also ask, how could there be a better opportunity to renew the discussion about one of America’s singular failures: the nurturing and maintenance of a murderous gun culture.