In the hours following the massacre early Sunday in an Orlando nightclub, President Obama – who has had to address the nation too many times after incidents of terror and gun violence – again showed the nation what a president must do and how he must do it in order to lead and unite.
As he nears the end of his time in office, the president feels the need to speak with directness. He acknowledged the “act of terror” and “act of hate” that drove Omar Mateen to kill 49 people in a gay nightclub and wound 53 others. Mateen used an assault rifle he never should have been able to buy – one no one should be able to buy – but the president did not use his pulpit to hammer the need for gun control, at least not yet.
He did, however, note that the club was a place of “solidarity and empowerment” for gays and lesbians and asked his fellow citizens whether this is the “kind of country we want to be.” That statement spoke to both the need for tolerance for gays and lesbians, which seems to have been improving, and also to the gun issue, following other shootings in wich there were multiple victims, including the 2012 slaughter of 20 children in Newtown, Conn.
The president did not pander to the right wing, which has acted as if the most important thing in the world in the battle against terrorism is for Obama to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism.”
Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican president nominee, again displayed his willingness to stir fear and hate, actually calling on Obama to resign because he refuses to demagogue the Muslim issue. Trump, of course, already has called for a ban on Muslims immigrants – about as practical as his proposal to deport all immigrants in the country illegally. In one more test of his capability of leadership, Trump failed miserably. For her part, Democratic presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton supported the president’s sentiments and also endorsed more gun control.
Now, Obama will surely turn to the gun issue. A ban on assault weapons from 1994 to 2004 expired under Republicans. Might some lives have been spared if it were still in effect? Possibly. This should be an opportunity to restore it and to toughen laws governing all gun purchases. The president has said before that these types of tragedies do not happen in other places. The gun lobby will of course marshal all its financial power to intimidate any politician who dares to support even the most reasonable gun laws, and chances are it will prevail, despite the support for stronger laws from a majority of the American people.
This country can and must do more. This president will in the next days come forth with words of strength for those lawmakers who want to make America safer for all – and aren’t afraid to fight that uphill battle against the gun lobby that will oppose them all the way.