So blinkered is the Republican Party on the topic of gun control that it blocked a law last month that would have prevented US citizens on the federal terrorism watchlist from purchasing weapons.
This, according to the party, would have encroached on the Second Amendment, which permits Americans to bear arms. It is deeds like this that make the words of Paul Ryan, the Republican Speaker, ring rather hollow, when he criticises President Barack Obama for using executive powers in an attempt to stem gun violence, instead of “lead[ing] the fight against radical Islamic terror”.The GOP, as Mr Ryan overlooks, has explicitly backed the right of terrorist suspects to buy as many submachine guns as they please.
No wonder Mr Obama gave up in 2013 on attempting to persuade the Republican-controlled Congress to consider gun control measures in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre. The reforms he proposes to push through via the power of his office are sane, if limited.
Lives will be saved by forcing small gun sellers to conduct background checks, and centralising more data on the mental health and criminal status of prospective gun buyers. Liberated from the need to seek re-election, Mr Obama has flexed his muscles through the use of executive orders in his second term. The characterisation of the 44th President as “weak” can be brushed aside: he will leave as strong a legacy in many areas as could reasonably be hoped for.
On gun control, though, the best chances of progress lie in state reforms. A powerful lobbying group backed by Michael Bloomberg has shifted from the idea that gun control is a losing issue in local elections. Acting where Congress failed to, Connecticut’s Democratic Governor has banned anyone on the terrorism watchlist from buying a gun. The NRA will retain its stranglehold over US politics for years, but it has – at last – some serious opposition.
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